Schools in the district are currently in the process of implementing plans and safety measures for the return to school buildings in the new academic year as they adapt to the ‘new normal’ post-lockdown.

Taking a phased approach, principal of Devenish College Simon Mowbray told The Impartial Reporter this week that Year 12 and 14 students will be returning to school on Monday, August 24.

“That week all year groups will have an induction session that will inform them of changes and arrangements for the new term and to provide some pastoral support as we aim to reintegrate everyone back to school,” said principal Mowbray.

Aware that the regulations regarding the Covid-19 pandemic are ever-changing, the Devenish College principal has provided parents and pupils with detailed guidance on two scenarios for the reopening of the school in the coming months.

“Based on the current guidelines of one metre social distancing, some pupils will be in school for one full week and then participate in blended learning at home during week two,” explained Principal Mowbray.

“Scenario B is based on a premise that social distancing measures will be reduced further and all pupils will be able to return to school at the beginning of September. If it is safe to do so, this would be our preferred plan.”

Based on the guidance they have received from the Department of Education, the Senior Leadership Team at Fivemiletown College are currently putting measures in place for the reopening of the school.In a recent letter to parents and pupils, Janice Allen, principal of Fivemiletown College said: “We will be reopening on Monday, August 24 for pupils entering Years 12 and 14.”

“The teaching staff will be in school week commencing August 17 for planning and preparation. The plan is to welcome the Year 8 pupils on Friday, August 28 and the rest of the school back on Tuesday, September 1 on a full time basis. Our primary aim is to ensure the safety, health and well-being of all pupils and staff. We are fortunate that our school building is flexible enough to accommodate all our pupils whilst adhering to social distancing parameters,” said principal Allen.

In mid-June, Education Minister Peter Weir published new guidance setting out how schools should plan for the new school day.

The guidance is part of an overall Restart Programme and has been co-designed by the Department of Education, school leaders and key partners. It has been supported through consultation with managing authorities, trade unions and sectoral support bodies.

Following confirmation by the Executive that schools will reopen for staff from August 17 and for priority groups of pupils from August 24, the Minister said: “This guidance in many ways reinforces practices we have all become accustomed to. It promotes regular hygiene practices on arrival at schools and throughout the school day and the application of the ‘catch it, bin it, kill it’ principles.

“It builds on the Executive’s agreement of June 18, 2020, that the current social distancing guidance of two metres must continue to be followed between all adults and older year groups within the education sector, but that looking to a start-date of August 24, a distance of one metre is an appropriate planning assumption between children and young people.”

Outlining the model of the use of ‘protective bubbles’ the Minister continued: “In circumstances where social distancing cannot reasonably be applied, the use of ‘protective bubbles’ as an additional mitigating measure must be followed. This has been applied successfully by other countries in their arrangements for reopening of schools. The guidance also promotes a flexible approach to use of existing spaces as a means of maximising face-to-face teaching opportunities and provides the framework within which workforce planning can now be developed.”