Education Minister Peter Weir has again said he will only move to close schools based on expert advice.
As schools take their own measures to try and curtail the spread of coronavirus – and many parents have chosen to keep their children at home – Mr Weir has said the position is “exceptionally fast moving” with “new developments emerging on a daily basis”.
Mr Weir was speaking after the mother of a Co Armagh schoolgirl, with underlying health problems, sought leave for a judicial review into the failure to close schools.
The Minister has written to school principals to say that he will not be swayed by social media commentary.
And on Monday afternoon the Department of Education issued guidance to schools and other educational settings in Northern Ireland.
The guidance, said the Department, is intended to assist schools and other educational settings, including early years and youth, to provide advice for pupils, students, staff and parents or carers regarding COVID-19.
Minister Weir said:”I fully understand the concerns of schools and parents and want to assure everyone that the Department of Education is working intensively with its education sector partners and with colleagues across the UK as well as the Department of Health, the Public Health Agency on a full range of very complex issues with regard to COVID-19.
“As new information becomes available, and decisions are taken, this guidance will be urgently updated.
“The Department has also instigated a range of contingency planning measures, including the establishment of a COVID-19 Education Planning Group to co-ordinate efforts across the education sector.
“I want to make clear that any decision to close schools and other educational settings will be backed up by expert, clear and unambiguous advice and guidance provided to me by the Chief Medical Officer, the Public Health Agency and the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies.
“This is not a step that I will take lightly or without careful consideration of the significant consequences.
“I understand the implications that school closures would have on a large number of parents being removed from their current jobs and instead staying at home to look after their children.
“Some of these will be doctors, nurses, police officers, paramedics and fire fighters, the very people we need at this key moment in time to complete critical contingency planning for the weeks and months ahead.
“I thank all those working in all our school settings across Northern Ireland for their continued professionalism during these very challenging times.”