Members of Fermanagh and Omagh District Council have unanimously agreed to contact the Minister for Education, Michelle McAleer, calling for action to prevent the transmission of the Omicron variant of Covid-19 in schools, amid concerns around the disruption caused to staff and children alike.

Councillor Bernice Swift, Independent proposed contacting the Minister and raising the issue at a forthcoming meeting with the Education Authority (EA).

She said: “I feel strongly that the current government support and guidance is insufficient to prevent widespread disruption. Much more needs to be done to ensure our schools can remain open, and most definitely safe for both staff and pupils alike.”

She continued: “If we sit back and think how any teacher could stay two metres away from young children in the early years classrooms, it’s really impossible, and [to be] surrounded by nearly 20 children for more than five hours a day, and not to even be supplied with the necessary medical care masks.

"Protecting face-to-face education requires the provision of these masks. We are learning daily and hearing the problems that having to work in almost Baltic conditions is insufferable by having to open windows widely.

"While we’re all trying to do our best through this pandemic, I feel it’s  an unacceptable problem that is continuing.

"Given all the issues, the government must act to keep all schools and colleges as safe as possible.”

Councillor Swift also requested the Minister direct the EA to suspend all upcoming inspections until stability prevails, which will alleviate pressure on teaching staff and allow them to get on with making education settings for learning, and tests can come later.

Seconding, Councillor Adam Gannon, SDLP, told members as a teacher he could attest that “Omicron is having a massive impact on education".

He continued: "I had Covid over Christmas and had to isolate and it definitely impacted on students having to go to hybrid learning once again.”

Turning to the requirement to keep windows open for air flow-through, Councillor Gannon said at times he has had to wear two jackets.

He continued: “There is essentially no support or guidance from the Department. It’s non-existent. It’s a couple of letters saying to 'open a window'.

"That isn’t support, and it’s barely guidance. The Department is failing on this one and the entire way through the pandemic.

"Exams are coming up in February and March. There really needs to be action now.”

Supporting this, Independent Councillor Emmet McAleer requested an inclusion to the proposal around school uniform.

“Children are sitting freezing in these classrooms, and are limited by what the uniform regulations are, in terms of what they can and cannot wear,” he said.

“It should be about prioritising their health and wellbeing as opposed to their appearance. The Minister does have the power to give directions to any relevant authority.”

Councillor Swift agreed to this being added to her proposal, which passed unanimously.