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A tentative step forward


MAKING A CONNECTION Junior Infants teacher Sarah Callaghan talking with new pupil Ciya Eldhose. Pic: Michael Mc Laughlin

Schools across Mayo reopen successfully after five months

Edwin McGreal

Mayo took a tentative step forward in the fight against Covid-19 with the reopening of national schools, secondary schools and preschools this week.
The school buildings have been closed to the county’s children since March and this week children, parents and teaching staff are adjusting to schooldays in the new normal.
So whether that’s wearing of face masks or visors by staff, children remaining in their ‘pods’, regular use of hand sanitiser and ensuring drop-offs and pick-ups are as safe as possible, the new academic year has started like no other.  
In Mayo’s largest national school, St Joseph’s NS in Ballinrobe, 456 children, 26 teachers and eight special needs assistants are back in school this week and happy to be back.
“We were a bit nervous but really excited about getting the children back into school, where they should be, and getting ourselves back into school, where we should be,” said school principal Dymphna Culhane.
Deputy principal Catriona Canney said it is about living with the disease.
“When we left the school in mid-March we repeatedly said to each other, every time we met, ‘We need to get the schools open’. We worked hard together to get to where we are today.
“We need to move forward, we need to live with this disease. Yes, it’s a very serious disease but I feel that we will manage it better in schools,” she said.
The kids themselves were delighted to be back, Ms Culhane said, after a longer summer holiday than anyone could have imagined at the start of 2020.
“They seemed really excited to be here,” she said. “We visited the classrooms this morning (last Thursday) and there was a real air of happiness and excitement among the kids. There was a great buzz in classrooms. Children are very adaptable, they just get on with it. They were all so happy to be out in the yard as well during their break. It’s very structured but there’s great freedom within the structure.”

Secondary School
In Ballina, over 500 girls will start their school year in St Mary’s Secondary School this week. “It’s going to be different for everyone,” school principal Robert O’Reilly told The Mayo News this week. “We have had a lot of staff coming in over the last few weeks and it’s a bit of a shock when they see how the tables are spread out and the reality kind of bites to them as to how completely different it is.
“The students won’t be moving around anymore, it’s a big thing for staff to give up their rooms they they’ve worked so hard to decorate. There’s years of resources in those rooms and it wasn’t easy clearing everything out except the table and chairs to maximise space.”
In Ballyglass, the local community childcare facility is reopening to small children who will be more oblivious than most to the new requirements.
Staff there are doing what they can to ensure public health guidance is followed while maintaining as enjoyable an atmosphere as possible.
The reality of life with Covid-19 is demonstrated by the repurposing of the sensory room in the facility into an isolation room for any child who shows Covid-19 symptoms.
“If a child has any symptoms of Covid the manager will remove the child from the pod and into the Covid room and the parent will be asked to come and take the child home,” said pre-school leader Derbhla McHale. “If it was the case that the child had a positive result, we’re told to contact the HSE who will give us further advice.
“A temperature would be a big thing [for parents to watch]. They’re asked to take their temperature in the morning before they drop the child in and to keep the child at home if there temperature is up,” she adds.
On the national front, the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HSPC) announced 53 cases yesterday (Monday) evening, as of midnight on Sunday. The previous day the HSPC announced there were 40 cases up to the previous midnight.
These were the lowest numbers recorded since August 12 when 40 cases were announced.
At local level, there have been a total of 588 in Mayo as of midnight on Sunday. Crucially, this means there have been just 16 cases since July 1, when the easing of travel restrictions were announced.  
So while there is cause for optimism in the numbers at national and local level, everyone will be watching tentatively to see what impact the reopening of schools has in the case numbers in the coming weeks.