UK

Bangor primary first to close completely after Covid cases

St Comgall's PS Image copyright Google Maps

A primary school in Bangor is the first to close completely in Northern Ireland after “several” cases of coronavirus were identified, its principal said.

St Comgall’s Primary said the decision to shut for 14 days was approved “at a higher level”.

Principal Cathy Hunter said she had “no other option” but said there was “no need to panic”.

Pupils from two classes have been told to self-isolate and the school will reopen on 12 October, it is understood.

In a message to parents, Mrs Hunter said the move was to “protect the health and safety of the whole school community” after a further case was identified within the school community.

“Please reassure your child that all is well,” she said.

“I sincerely apologise for the inconvenience caused but know that you will want to support this decision in order to return out school community safely as soon as we can.”

The school did not explain why it needed to close entirely for two weeks.

In a statement, Mrs Hunter said: “It is in the best interests of the staff and pupils at this time for the premises to remain closed for two weeks but the school remains very much open with online learning commencing from tomorrow morning.

“The safety of all at the school is paramount to the staff and the Board of Governors and this decision has not been taken lightly.

“The education of the 309 pupils will remain our priority.”

Confusion

By Sara Girvin, BBC News NI, in Bangor

At three o’clock – the last pupils from St Comgall’s Primary School were picked up.

All children left at their normal times, it felt like any other day, but this time they won’t be back for two weeks.

Many parents wondered how they’d arrange childcare with such short notice.

There was confusion too as to why the whole school is closing for two weeks, rather than just a few days, as we’ve seen at other schools with Covid cases.

But after just a few weeks back in the classroom, it’s back to home schooling for the parents and pupils of St Comgall’s.

It’s hoped they’ll be back in class by 12 October.

All learning will now take place online.

Gerry Campbell, chief executive of the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools (CCMS) said: “Everything is being done to ensure the welfare of the pupils and staff. While the school building may be closed the switch to remote learning will be seamless.”

Image copyright PA Media
Image caption Education Minister Peter Weir said that his department’s guidance on dealing with Covid-19 cases in schools is “very clear cut”

Education Minister Peter Weir told the BBC’s Evening Extra programme that he would not comment on individual schools.

“The advice that is given is that where there is someone who has tested positive, the school is to draw up a list of close contacts – those who have been within 2m for 15 minutes or more – and for those individuals, in correspondence with the Public Health Agency, to self-isolate,” he said.

“In the vast majority of cases, it shouldn’t be a whole school or for a very lengthy period.”

A number of schools in NI have reported positive Covid-19 cases among staff or pupils since schools began to reopen on 24 August.

In the vast majority of cases, specific classes of pupils have been told to self-isolate following advice from the Public Health Agency.

Image copyright Reuters

A number of schools have closed for deep cleans after positive tests but only for a short period.

Last week, Holy Cross College in Strabane and Malone College in Belfast closed for a number of days after positive cases were reported.

Earlier, Fleming Fulton, a special school in Belfast, closed after two members of staff tested positive.

Bangor councillor Barry McKee said he believed St Comgall’s Primary School had given “good advice to parents” not to panic.

“I would encourage our children to continue their studies as best they can from home, with the support of their teachers,” he added.

He said employers should be “as flexible as possible with parents”.

‘Our children will suffer’

But one parent, who did not wish to be named, said: “I’m disappointed and angry that this is the first school in NI to close completely [for two weeks] and has shown such a lack of resilience.

“Parents are now faced again with the unrelenting challenge of homeschooling while juggling work and other commitments.

“Yet again it is our children who will suffer most.

“Schools must ensure they have adequate systems in place to avoid school-wide closures for minimal cases.”

Image caption Justin McCamphill, from NASUWT, called on the Department of Education to share statistics on the number of Covid-19 cases in schools

Justin McCamphill, from teaching union NASUWT, said it was “inundated with staff asking what their school should do because either teachers, pupils or support staff have tested positive”.

He said that the Department of Education “needed to get a handle on this”.

“We have a very strange situation here where we have guidance but it’s being interpreted in its own way in each school. It’s an intolerable situation, it should be a clear instruction on what schools should do.”

He added that he was aware of some other schools that “are on the brink” of closing over staffing issues.

At the start of September, Stormont’s education committee was told there had been “88 reports into schools of a positive case in 64 educational settings”, however, there has been no update since then.

Meanwhile, the number of coronavirus-related deaths in Northern Ireland remains at 578, according to the latest Department of Health statistics.

There were no further deaths reported by the department on Monday.

The total number of cases in the past 24 hours increased by 220, with the total number of people testing positive now 10,949 – with 999 of those being recorded in the past four days.

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