Concern has again been raised about the reopening of schools in September, following the publication of interim recommendations by the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC).
According to the recommendations, in primary schools, a distance of one metre should be maintained between desks or between individual pupils.
However, recognising that younger children are unlikely to maintain physical distancing indoors, "achieving this recommendation in the first four years of primary school is not a prerequisite to reopening a primary school for all pupils".
This would mean that physical distancing of one metre would be required from 3rd class upwards. It has widely been acknowledged that schools would not be able to fully reopen in September if one-metre distancing was to be in place.
The HPSC also recommended that pupils and teachers are put into "class bubbles" - these are class groupings which stay apart from other classes as much as possible. Within these class bubbles, there should be further division where possible into smaller groups, or "pods".
"Generally speaking the objective is to limit contact and sharing of common facilities between people in different class bubbles (and pods within those class bubbles) as much as possible, rather than to avoid all contact between pods, as the latter will not always be possible.
"The aim of the system within the school, is that each class grouping mix only with their own class from arrival at school in the morning until departure at the end of the school day. The pods within those class bubbles is an additional measure, to limit the extent of close contact within the class bubble," the HPSC said.
At post-primary level, physical distancing of two metres where possible is recommended, or at least one metre, between desks or individual students or staff.
It is recommended that pupils remain in the same classroom as much as possible and teachers move between rooms.
"Where possible double classes would be planned to minimise movement during the day. Where students have to move to an elective subject, they would move quickly into the new class and would be seated with members of their class cohort, observing as much physical distancing as possible," the HPSC said.
It also suggested staggered drop off/pick up times and lunch breaks.
The new Minister for Education, Norma Foley, welcomed the publication of the interim public health advice. She said that in addition to this, a draft COVID-19 plan will be issued to primary schools that provides them with information about the measures being progressed "to support the sustainable reopening of schools".
"We all want to support the education system so that we can welcome our pupils and staff across our school communities back into a safe environment later in the year. We will continue to work with the public health experts over the course of the summer to update the interim advice as necessary," she commented.
The interim recommendations from the HPSC can be viewed here.
Discussions on this topic are now closed.