A WEST Belfast school has been forced to delay the return of three year groups following the Christmas break due to staff absences. 

St Mary's CBGS has written to parents to inform them that Year 8, 9 and 10 pupils should stay home today (Thursday 6 January) and tomorrow (Friday 7 January). 

Schools across the North opened again today amidst concerns about the spread of the Omicron variant. Statistics from the Department of Health showed that 50,250 people have tested positive for Covid-19 in the past seven days. 

Meanwhile, the Sinn Féin MLA Pat Sheehan has tabled petition to recall the Assembly to to discuss the safe return of schools.

In a letter to parents, St Mary's CBGS Principal, Siobhan Kelly, expressed hope that Key Stage 3 pupils would return to school on Monday.  

"Staff will be required to help cover classes for our Year 11 to 14 year groups on Thursday and Friday," she said.

"Where possible teachers will post work on Google classroom for their classes. Your son should check his Google classrooms and complete work as well as use the time away from the classroom to review and revise work completed in Term 1.

"We are all very aware of the challenging times we are experiencing and we will endeavour to keep the school open each day for as many pupils as possible.

"Further guidance from the Department of Health for schools can be viewed on the school website.

"We will update you as further decisions are made."

On Tuesday, the Health Minister Michelle McIlveen insisted that her "priority remains keeping our children and young people in school."

Principals and unions have called for more clarity and support from the Minister as they enter the new term. However, Ms McIlveen told the BBC there had been no change in Covid-19 guidance as the new term begins as there have been no change in the recommendations from the Health department.

West Belfast MLA Pat Sheehan said that rising number of Covid-19 cases is "increasing the pressure on school staff".

Calling for an Assembly recall, he stated: “The Education Minister needs to come to the Assembly to set out a clear plan for schools returning which puts the safety of pupils, teachers and parents first and deals with the pressures on school staff caused by rising infection rates.”