THERE have been more calls for greater clarity from the Department of Education on what steps schools need to take to protect staff and students as they return to the classrooms.
Veronica Hanna, Key Stage Five Manager at De La Salle College, has said that schools need more robust guidance to allow classes to return to some sense of normality in a safe manner.
“The guidance that we received from the EA and the Department of Education was that from 16 August we wouldn’t need any more bubbles and it would be up to the schools whether they wanted to keep them or not,” she said. 
“We were all so pleased with that because teachers wanted into their own classrooms for our own wellbeing and our principal was very happy with that because it is very stressful for staff moving around and trying to bring resources with them as we are more equipped in our own rooms.
“Then the Education Minister, Michelle Mcilveen came back as we were due to start back and recommended that we stay in bubbles which has put a spanner in the works. What we as a school would prefer is clearer guidance.  
“We are being told that we don’t have to do something but if we want then we can. We would prefer a more direct approach from the Department and more robust guidance.”
Mrs Hanna said that the school will be taking a blended approach to allow students to move around the school between classes but maintaining bubbles when large groups can gather such as at break and lunch.
“When all of our staff returned we once again held a Covid induction on our protocols and we held a consultation with staff on going back to their classrooms. There was an overwhelming consensus that the staff want to go back into their classrooms and the principal got that because it makes sense for the staff wellbeing.

“Of course, for our boys as well this means that they will have the least disruption to the school day. There is social and emotional benefits associated with being in different classrooms. Over the last year they were doing subjects such as science and home economics as theory and this will allow the practical elements of the curriculum to return. 
“We won’t be doing away with bubbles in their entirety. We will have bubbles for registration where each year group will be on single corridors, we also have designated areas in the canteen for each year group. 
“This blended approach will only work if everyone buys into wearing our masks, keeping our two metre distance and keeping everything ventilated,” she added. 
“In terms of moving between classrooms, the EA have said that if it is only brief contact then it is not a big risk. We are considering letting year groups out of classes at different times to minimise the number of children in the corridors but in terms of lunch and break, each year group have their own entrance and exit to the school. 
“We also have exit and entrance routines for each room so that the teachers are there and ready to get the children in and out safely and smoothly.
“Our principal is determined to go with this blended approach but we are ready and prepared to revert back if we need to. We are very hopeful that this will allow for a return of some sense of normality. We want all of our students to have that secondary school experience.
“Last year we had students learning IT in classrooms without computers, for their benefit we want to return to some sense of normality.”
De La Salle College recognises that this is about more than keeping their staff and students safe, but also their role in insuring the safety of the wider community surrounding the school.
Veronica added: “This isn’t just about us as a school community looking out for each other and keeping each other safe. We are trying to instil in the boys that they need to continue to wear their masks on public transport or going into the shops. 
“We see it as our responsibility to look out for our immediate community outside of the school as well. 
“Covid is still out there and we are trying to get as many of our staff and students signed up to the lateral flow tests on a Sunday and Wednesday. If we can get buy-in to that then we all feel somewhat safer.
“In addition to that, we are conducting Co2 monitoring and have installed purifiers in rooms that are not ventilated so that we can have all our classrooms available and safe. 
“We just need the EA and the PHA to be singing from the same hymn sheet and to be giving us clear, concise guidance on how we can best protect our staff, students and wider community.”