I hope you are all keeping well and enjoying the last few weeks of our holidays. As we enter the middle of August, I am sure you are all thinking about returning to school and have worries and concerns about what it is going to be like for your children when we return. All I can say is that as a staff, we have put a lot of thought and effort into planning and school set up, to ensure the safety of us all, staff, students and parents. We hope to re-open our school safely, in line with current guidance and recommendations. Considerable time has been spent working through the roadmap and other documents the Department of Education and Skills have issued and these have been used to guide the directions of which the re-opening process will take. The re-opening process will require the co-operation of all members of the school community, BoM, School Leadership, Staff, Parents and Pupils. We will all be called upon to play our part. We would ask everyone to be patient, every decision we have made and changes we are implementing have the health and safety of everyone in our school community at the forefront. Our goal is to do everything we can to stop the spread of the virus and to allow the vital work of Teaching and Learning to proceed with as little disruption as possible. School life will be different, this is unavoidable, but behind all the changes are the same dedicated team of staff, who can’t wait to get working with your children again. We have missed teaching them, listening to their stories and have a laugh and a giggle with them. Reintroducing your children to school life will require a very strong sense of solidarity between teachers and parents, we do not want them to feel any anxiety, so we would ask that you read through this update and then talk to your child about all the exciting changes that have happened in the school since we closed in March. If you have any queries regarding any of the information, please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As the staff of St Michaels N, S, we have a statutory obligation to take reasonable care of our own health and safety as well as that of our colleagues and other parties. In this regard we have worked together to establish our schools Covid 19 response plan which includes the schools Covid 19 Policy Statement, Pre return to work questionnaire, Risk Assessment, school contact tracing log, checklist for school managers, checklist for managing a suspected case of Covid 19, checklist for lead worker representative and a checklist for cleaning. We have agreed that Ms Whelan will act as the Lead worker representative and Mrs Campbell will act as the deputy Lead worker representative. The department of Education produced a Covid 19 Response Plan for the safe and sustainable reopening of primary and special schools & Reopening our schools- The Roadmap for the full return to school. I would ask that you read through these working documents prior to August 27th. The School Covid 19 Policy Statement will be published on our website in the coming days.
Let’s start with the good news, we have been approved for the building of another new classroom with toilets. This will commence later on in the year and is a massive achievement for the school. We are also looking forward to welcoming Ms Atkinson back from here career break and Mrs Lennon, who will be with us until October 23rd, teaching 3rd & 4th Class. Confirmation will take place on Saturday 22nd August at 3pm in Broomfield. We are delighted that Tiernan, Eimar, Jessica and Lauren finally get to celebrate the sacrament of Confirmation. We wish them a wonderful day.
In recent weeks we have been working on upgrading our procedures and routines within the school to ensure that there is as much physical distancing as is possible in our building. We will apply physical distancing in a practical and sensible way, recognising that the learning environment cannot be dominated by a counterproductive focus on this issue. Physical distancing will therefore be achieved through a combination of Increasing Separation and Decreasing Interaction. What we aim to do is ensure that to the greatest extent possible, pupils and teachers should constantly be in their same class bubble. Different class bubbles should have separate breaks and meal times and to divide the classes into pods (small groups) ensuring that each pod is 1m apart. Staff members who move from class bubble to class bubble will be limited.
With this in mind we have made changes to the school layout- All rooms have been painted and cleaned. New furniture has been bought where necessary and any damaged or unnecessary resources have been removed from the classrooms. In order to ensure social distancing, we have changed the classrooms around. Ms Atkinson will teach junior/ senior infants in the newest classroom (Ms Whelan’s old room). Mrs Campbell will teach 5th & 6th class in the senior classroom (Ms Atkinson’s old room). Mrs Lennon will teach 3rd & 4th class in the middle room (Mrs Campbell’s old room) and Mrs Mc Guirk will teach 1st & 2nd class in her old room. Each class will be called a bubble and within each bubble the children will be sitting in groups “pods”. There will be 1m between each of the pods. Ms Whelan will teach in the lunch hall.
School will reopen for all students from the end of August, and while everyone would love school to operate as normally as imaginable, it is recognised that this is not possible and that some of rules and regulations we as a staff have established and adhered to in the past, can no longer be followed. Support from every single member of our school community will be vital to minimise the risk of Covid 19. If your child feels unwell, is displaying and cold/flu like symptoms, they should not be sent to school. Please keep them at home. If a staff member feels unwell, they have been asked to stay at home. Start teaching best practice techniques of hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette to your children. Allow them to practice wearing a mask, while this is not mandatory, you can allow your child to do so if you wish. Staff will wear face coverings if they wish. In the coming weeks I would urge you to minimise social contacts and respect physical distancing practices. If you have been on holidays in August, to any of the countries not on the Green List, or are indeed due to go on holidays, please remember that there must be a two week (14 day) self- isolation period once you return, before your child can return to school.
School start time will be staggered from 9.15-9.30. Both the small and big gate will be opened daily for use by students. Teachers will be in their “bubbles” for 9.15. Children from Junior/Senior Infants, 5th & 6th class will use the front door as their entry point (I have ordered signs to be hung on the school so the kids and parents will know which door they use). 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th will enter through the bottom (emergency exit door). The door they use never changes, for breaktime, lunchtime and home time. By having a 15 minute arrival time and two entry points, we should cover ourselves in terms of the numbers entering at any given time. Parents are NOT allowed to congregate at the gate and are not allowed onto the school grounds. Please just walk your children to the gate and then return to your car promptly so that you are not putting the children entering at risk. I will supervise the yard for the 15 minutes to ensure everyone gets into their classroom safely.
Home will be staggered from 2.50-3pm. 2.50 for 1st and 2nd class to leave, 2.55pm for 3rd & 4th class to leave and 3pm for 5th& 6th class to leave. Students leave through their designated door and while we are aware that parents may now have to wait in their cars a bit longer, this is the best way of keeping everyone safe. Asking parents to come to the gate to collect their children is no longer possible so we would just ask you to stand at your car door or on the footpath outside and wait for the children there. Again I will be in the yard and supervise all children leaving for those 15 minutes. Junior Infants will go home at 12pm for the first two weeks but from Monday 14th September they will leave at 2pm with Senior infants. Ms Atkinson will escort her class out at home time. Again, parents should not congregate at the school gate, but rather wait until they see the teacher coming out and then get out of their car to collect their child.
Anyone (Parents or Visitors) who arrive at the school during the school day must buzz the door and await access to the reception area (front hall). They will not be given access beyond this point, except in the case of an emergency. Everyone will also be required to complete a comprehensive contact tracing log sheet. We would ask parents to ring ahead before coming to the school, if it’s a case that they are collecting a child early or have a prearranged an appointment with a staff member. No impromptu visits will be facilitated. Phone calls and emails to the office will now become the key methods of communication.
Staff members moving from bubble to bubble will be minimised to decrease interaction. Therefore the only two staff members that will mix between bubbles will be Ms Whelan and Nicola (Our SNA). Nicola will be working between Junior /Senior infants and 3rd/4th class. Therefore she will be mixing between two bubbles. Because we are the only two mixing between bubbles, we are the only two that will carry out yard duty.
In the short term, teachers will take a small break at any stage between 10.30-11.30. This will entail allowing the children to eat something and if possible they can also have some time outside in the yard. This yard time will be supervised by the class teacher.
As we are requested to have staggered lunchtimes, lunch will start at 12.30 for Junior/senior infants and 1st and 2nd class (they eat in their rooms for 15 minutes with teacher supervising. Then they go outside to play and while they are outside their teachers can take their lunch). At 1pm 3rd/4th class and 5th /6th class will eat in their classes for 15 minutes and then go outside for 15 minutes.
Class teachers will all have a full supply of cleaning products and in line with the roadmap, will be required to maintain the cleanliness of their own work areas. This means that any cleaning carried out within the classrooms throughout the school day is at the discretion of the teacher. No children are permitted to use the photocopier/ laminator. Children will not be allowed into another classroom on a message or to the office.
In relation to the use of equipment, we won’t be using any in the yard at lunch time and if teachers use equipment for PE, they must clean them afterwards. We will cancel choir for the foreseeable and try to avoid singing in class. If musical instruments are used, teachers must clean them after use. If ipads are used, teachers must clean them afterwards. I would recommend labelling absolutely everything belonging to your child, pencils, colouring pencils etc. as teachers will not be in a position to handle these, and the children will need to be responsible for minding them. We have bought a lot of extra books, to reduce sharing, and on the first day your child’s book rental books will be sent home. These must be cover with a clear plastic covering that can be wiped clean. It will be parent’s responsibility to give them a quick wipe clean nightly after use before sending them back into school the following day. If books are not covered, teachers will simply not send them home. Please clean your child’s lunch box and drinks bottle nightly.
As Aistear cannot be carried out, we will use the Aistear Prefab as the designated Isolation Room, and in the unlikely event of a staff/student showing symptoms, Ms Whelan will accompany the person to the Isolation area via the isolation route (which is the quickest exit to limit contact with others). Debby will contact a parent or guardian when it is a child. A mask will be given to the person presenting with symptoms and they will be encouraged to avoid touching surfaces while in this waiting area. The isolation area will then be deep cleaned.
As the new infants have not got the opportunity to meet their teacher or see their new class, we have organised a small meet and greet on Tuesday 25th August. As there are 17 infants, the group meeting has been split into two sessions. One from 12.30-1pm and the next from 1.15-1.45. Parents will be allowed in with their child that day. However, on Thursday 27th we really cannot be in a position where parents are in the classroom with their children. I can foresee some upset children, especially in light of the fact that they have been stuck to their mammy’s for the past few months. What we can do is allow junior infants parents to come around into the middle yard, ensure you are maintaining social distancing from other parents and junior infants. Ms Atkinson can use the back (emergency door) of her room to allow the children in. There, parents will be able to wave in and see that their children are ok and settled. Junior infant parents can do this for the first few days and then after that, we would urge you just to allow the children in with all their peers.
Toilets are a problematic area. We only have three toilets for boys and three for girls so we can only have one child in the toilet at a given time. A toilet card will be used in each room and if a child comes out to the bathroom and there is a card on the door, they must wait in a designated waiting area until the other pupil leaves. We are aware that this may be problematic, and in the event that a child is badly in need of the toilet, we may give permission for two children to use the bathroom at the same time, leaving the middle toilet vacant to ensure distancing. We will be strictly enforcing the use of individual wash bags. A fresh face cloth or small towel along with a bar of soap in your child’s wash bag is all that is needed and by using their own there is no risk of contamination. However, we are obliged and will provide wash basins, running water, liquid soap and hand driers and we will continue to provide these but children having and using their own is safer. We have hand sanitisers dispensers for each classroom. We also have one at both the front and bottom door, one in the staffroom. As hand hygiene is essential, it will be encouraged on arrival, before and after eating, after use of the toilet, after playing outdoors, when they cough/sneeze or if their hands are dirty.
Once the Department of Education issue updated signage, it will be displayed in all appropriate places throughout the school and students and staff will be encouraged to follow the advice laid out in these posters.
In relation to school uniforms, children are required to have both a full school uniform and the school tracksuit. Parents are advised to alternate these daily to facilitate daily washing. Therefore if your child wears their uniform on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and their tracksuit on Tuesday and Thursday.
With all of the above implemented, there are still no guarantees. We can only do our best. We are appreciative of the fact that there are extra time consuming responsibilities being placed on parents, as there are on teachers. However, we are a small school and our focus is getting back to school and doing our best to remain open. Let’s work together on this. We feel we are adequately prepared for a safe return and look forward to seeing you all very soon.