Department of Education sought to accommodate school pupils at Limerick shopping centre due to Covid

Fintan Walsh

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Fintan Walsh

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fintan.walsh@limerickleader.ie

Department of Education sought to accommodate school pupils at Limerick shopping centre due to Covid

THE Department of Education wanted to accommodate a number of primary school pupils at the Parkway Shopping Centre

THE Department of Education wanted to accommodate a number of primary school pupils at a shopping centre in order to provide social distancing in the classroom, but was unsuitable due to a lack of a play area. 

That is according to correspondence, released under Freedom of Information, between the Department and the principal of St Patrick’s Girls National School, who had expressed concerns over social distancing at the Dublin Road school. 

On July 29, principal Donal O’Gorman wrote to the department saying that “schools like mine built pre 1916 don’t fit into any of the department’s categories for distancing and I don’t share your confidence that all my pupils can return in September.”

The reopening schools official, Kathleen Scally, said that funding would be provided under the enhanced minor works grant to “facilitate classroom reconfiguration works”. 

Ms Scally said that the school should move senior classes into larger rooms and junior classes into smaller rooms. 

“Students from Junior to 2nd class do not need to social distance. The classes can be divided into pods with 1 metre between individual pods. The Department will not be providing prefabs for schools however the school can use their minor works grant for rent of additional space if required,” she said.

Mr O’Gorman had expressed concerns over the class sizes, according to the email exchange.

On August 27, on the day the school reopened to pupils, Sinead McDonnell of the Schools’ Capital Appraisal Section, said that the Department had  “sourced accommodation at the Old Education Centre in the Parkway Shopping Centre to allow you to implement physical distancing for your senior cycle. Can you please advise if you wish to proceed with this accommodation and provide costs for the rental of same which will be approved.”

The following day, Mr O’Gorman said that he and an official “did not actually agree that accommodation was suitable. The rooms were great but, as it’s in the middle of a shopping centre, there is no outdoor play area.”

He said that they had “agreed to let things lie for the moment” and would review the classroom situation in two weeks. 

Parkway Shopping Centre manager, Roger Beck told the Leader: “We have a great relationship with all the local schools, and certainly if it could be made to work for them, we could have been quite happy to work with them on it,” he said, adding that he could understand their criteria.