#childsafety | Minister was advised ‘schools should reopen’ ahead of December’s storm-forced closure

A decision to close schools for a second day on the back of Storm Barra was taken after the Minister for Education Norma Foley opted to go above and beyond the advice the Department of Education was giving her.

Schools were closed on December 7 ahead of projected heavy winds due to the storm.

That decision was taken despite much of the country not being covered by a status red warning from Met Éireann.

That afternoon, a number of counties were left on status orange, the second most severe warning level, leading to a decision by the minister to shut schools in 12 counties, a move which sparked criticism from parents, particularly those based in Dublin, for whom the decision was not communicated until 10pm that night.

However, documents released to the Irish Examiner under freedom of information show that the options initially given to the minister regarding possible further school closures on the afternoon of December 8 were less wide-ranging than the course eventually taken.

The three options given to the minister at 5pm on December 7 were: that all schools should reopen with local discretion applied as to individual closures; that all schools should reopen apart from in Co Donegal, which remained under an orange alert until the following afternoon; or that all should reopen apart from in Co Donegal and its fellow orange-alerted counties Sligo and Leitrim, with the caveat that it “could be argued” that this should also apply to Cork, Kerry, Waterford, Clare, Galway, Mayo, and Wexford.

The message detailing those options noted that the final decision would be made by the minister, however.

All three options given to Ms Foley had advised a message stating that ‘schools should reopen tomorrow’, excepting those still covered by an orange or red alert.

The actual eventual release from the department made no such statement, but said that “schools who are no longer in a red or orange alert area can reopen, provided that, if there are concerns, school managers have had an opportunity to check for fallen wires and other serious damage in the vicinity of school buildings”.

It further advised that schools in all of the above named counties, with the addition of Limerick, were to remain closed on December 8.

The issue was further hampered at 9.40pm that evening when Met Éireann placed an orange warning on Co Dublin once more from 1am until 7am on the Wednesday, leading to all schools in the capital likewise being closed.

Queried as to the evolution of the closures, a Department of Education spokesperson said that the decision to close on December 8 “was made primarily in the interests of child safety and on the basis of information available in what was a developing situation”.

“This allowed for assessment of the impact of Storm Barra to take place before schools reopened,” they said.

“It was recognised that the decision to close schools would have a major impact on families and on the workforce. However, this decision was taken in the interests of safety for children and to provide clarity for everyone concerned,” the spokesperson said.

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