THE LEADER last interviewed Donncha O Treasaigh, director of schools for the Limerick and Clare Education and Training Board, back in the uncertain time of March 2020.
If we knew then what we know now…
Back in those scary times when schools were closing due to Covid, Mr O Treasaigh spoke about how online technologies from Google, Microsoft and Apple would be utilised to the fullest degree. How right he was but none of us realised for how long.
It has been quite the responsibility for the Pallasgreen man as he oversees some 14,000 students. The schools in Limerick under his remit are Colaiste Chiaran; Mungret College; Castletroy College; Gaelcholaiste Luimnigh; Thomond Community College; Colaiste Ide agus Iosaef, Abbeyfeale; Hazelwood College, Dromcollogher; Desmond College, Newcastle West; Colaiste Iosaef, Kilmallock; Colaiste Mhuire, Askeaton; Colaiste an Trocaire, Rathkeale and Glenroe Community National School
Pupils returned in September 2020 and remained in the classroom until Christmas. Then you had 8,000 cases in one day and the majority of students weren’t back again until April, with the Leaving Certs a little earlier.
After the summer holidays what is the mood ahead of the new term in September 2021?
“Everyone is concerned with the increasing cases each day, according to NPHET there is 30 per cent more cases today than there was this day last year,” said Mr O Treasaigh, who was speaking on Thursday, August 19.
“We have the Delta variant which is far more contagious than the variant we had last year, so that is a source of concern. However, 91% of adults are partially vaccinated, which is very, very promising,” he continued.
In particular, Mr O Treasaigh wishes to praise youngsters for their vaccine take-up.
“It is very commendable and very positive to note how many young people are volunteering to go for the vaccine themselves when you compare it to other European countries. Young people believe in the science and believe in the sound medical evidence that’s there to support the fact that people will be protected if they are vaccinated. So it is very commendable,” said Mr O Treasaigh.
Schools will be as safe as they possibly can be for staff and students again this September.
“Masks will continue to be a very central element of protecting people for the foreseeable future and that is because of the fact that the Delta variant is so much more contagious than the Covid virus that was there last September. But schools and society in general have adapted extremely well.
“Schools are very safe places from the point of view of the ‘cleaning machine’ that exists in schools, the level of awareness that schools undertake with parents and students and staff. All teachers will have to complete a return to work form, to ensure that they are safe to return to work.
“Students in our Limerick and Clare Education Training Board schools are being reminded about the importance of knowing symptoms of the virus and the measures that they all have to engage with to protect everyone in the school environment,” said Mr O Treasaigh,
It is noteworthy to acknowledge that young people have been very, very good around dealing and managing Covid, he stresses.
“They have had to sacrifice so much in terms of their own personal lives and they have been absolutely wonderful, real unsung heroes to be honest in the fight against Covid,” said Mr O Treasaigh.
He says while technology is wonderful and especially when there are school closures, “nothing replaces the experience of being able to come in to school each day and to be able to have those relationships with their fellow students and teachers”.
So have we seen the last of lessons on Zoom and Microsoft Teams while teens sit at the kitchen table or in their bedroom?
“I think it’s too soon to say that. What could happen in the foreseeable future is that there may be isolated school closures, dependent on public health advice, if there are outbreaks that are significant. I doubt very much that there will be national school closures.
“But there may be localised school closures because of high incidence rates, or high incidences of close contacts, that may happen but there is no doubt about it, everyone has become very familiar now with online teaching and learning. It is the best substitute in the circumstances that we find ourselves,” concluded Mr O Treasaigh.
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