A war of words has erupted even before the NI Assembly was called back on Monday to debate the escalating crisis in education, with a DUP MLA claiming that other parties are playing politics with education instead of seeking an answer to the situation.
Christopher Stallford questions the motive behind the assembly recall, which will take place a week after schools face questions over rising cases of Covid and lack of action to provide staff and air filters for overcrowded classrooms .
DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has challenged Finance Minister Conor Murphy to provide the finances needed to improve school safety.
It is estimated that £20,000 will be needed to provide HEPA air filtration for approximately 100 orbits.
“Our aim is to keep the schools open and we are working with the school principals. The minister is working urgently on a plan to provide air filtration and ventilation equipment in schools,” the DUP leader said.
This will come at a significant cost. My challenge to Sinn Féin is, ‘Do you want to keep the schools open? We need the finance minister to step in and provide funding.”
The petition for the assembly recall was filed by Sinn Féin legislator Pat Sheehan, and was supported by both the SDLP and the Alliance.
“The finance minister has already said that if finances are needed to keep school children safe in schools, that money will be made available,” Mr. Sheehan said.
“I cannot guarantee on behalf of the Finance Minister,” he continued. “I’m pretty sure that if the Minister of Education makes a bid for funding to help our schools stay open safely, I have no doubt that the Minister of Finance will be very pleased with it.”
The Finance Department confirmed that no bids have been received to cover the cost of air filtration and ventilation equipment.
“If any bids are received, the finance minister will bring the recommendations to the executive,” it said.
Christopher Stallford legislator accused those who supported doing so for political gain.
“The submission of this resolution is not really about addressing the very serious concerns of our teachers. We hear about ‘DUP Education Minister’, not about ‘Education Minister’. It is not about doing party politics.
“On Monday we will go to Stormont and debate these issues, but people need to be clear in terms of some showboating.”
A teachers’ union described the situation in the schools as “serious”.
NASUWT National Officer Northern Ireland Justin McCamphill said that almost every school has reached a level where they have to move students to online learning.
“But the biggest concern is the temperature in the school because the only way to achieve good ventilation is to open the windows,” he said. “It’s taking the temperature down so far that it’s very uncomfortable for both teachers and students.”
Mitigation in schools has not changed since before Christmas, with the Department of Education a priority to keep schools open.
“EA has acquired over 11,500 C02 monitors and about 95% of schools have now been provided with monitors, with another 5,000 more monitors expected to come,” the department said.
“Good ventilation, among other measures, can help reduce the risk of transmission. Natural ventilation, such as opening windows, can be effective in reducing exposure to viruses in the air.
“EA has placed an order for 100 air filtration units. These will be deployed where specific remedial action to improve ventilation is either not immediately possible or will have a prime time to be addressed. ,