Supporting Local News

Do we need our own school to protect our kids from Covid?

The return to school is less than a month away – but as Galway journalist and mother TESS FINCH-LEES reveals, the rules on minimising the risk of Covid have all but vanished from the agenda. So here she outlines her own radical solution.


“God loves a trier”, as my Dad used to say – and God knows I’ve tried to persuade Norma Foley to make schools Covid safe. They’re not, but I won’t stop trying.

In the meantime, schools re-open in three weeks against a backdrop of a data blackout, a more contagious variant incoming, waning and pummelled immunity from repeated infections, with no protections in place. And monkeypox.

School staff have, yet again, been put in an invidious position.

Since Micheál Martin unilaterally downgraded Covid to flu and devolved public health to “personal responsibility”, it’s up to parents to risk-assess now.

But, if we’re not allowed to know if the unmasked kid sitting next to ours who was off sick for a few days has Covid and is potentially still infectious, how can we? Nits we need to be informed of, but a highly infectious neurotropic disease that can cause organ damage, disability and death?

That’s an ecumenical matter.

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and WHO measures to prevent the spread of infection in schools include reducing community transmission, vaccination, distancing, masks, improved ventilation, testing, sequencing, contact tracing and isolation. Ireland has either stalled or rolled back on these.

I spoke to one of the country’s leading children’s rights lawyers, Gareth Noble, who said: “I’m concerned we’re creating a culture of conditioning us to think Covid infections and outbreaks in schools are inevitable.

They’re not.

We significantly reduce risk for our children if we follow basic public health advice such as mask-wearing, contact tracing, air filtration and other measures. Any expert advice from the WHO needs to be considered and actioned. Ignoring it would be negligent.”

I’ve worked in child protection where “negligent” is synonymous with child harm. That’s not something I can ignore. Unless parents are prepared to say, “we don’t consent to exposing our children to Covid infection at school”, our consent will be presumed tacit.

I wrote my first article about Covid safe schools two years ago. There have been many more since. Each time, teachers, parents and children contact me sharing their concerns. Many are either clinically vulnerable (CV) or have a family member who is CV. Some – previously healthy children and teachers – have developed Long-Covid and now have “underlying conditions”.

In the absence of any plan forthcoming, concerned parents are agonising about what to do come September.

In order to attend school, immunocompromised Galway mother (Joan) has to send her twelve-year-old (Brian) to live with her sister – a 30-minute drive away. Without mitigations, bringing the virus home from school could kill Joan. Parting with her son was her only choice.

Some choice.

I anticipate the next year being quite perilous. No public health protections, new – more transmissible – vaccine-escaping variants emerging more frequently, so expect serial (re)infections, which the WHO’s Dr Mike Ryan warns, increases the risk of long-Covid, even in “mild” acute cases. The sterilising vaccines that prevent transmission and infections, are unlikely to emerge within the next twelve months. It’s time for plan b.

Home-schooling works for some, but not my son, who’d rather have his eyeballs poked by pigeons than have me as his teacher.

So, I scoured the internet to see if any school anywhere had managed to prevent Covid outbreaks. I found one – Abrome, in Texas. How did it do it? By ignoring politicians and following the science.

Acknowledging Covid is airborne, mitigations included daily testing, mandatory FFP2/3 masks (unless medically exempt) indoors and outdoors in close contact during surges, distancing, remote learning when cases were extremely high, outdoor learning options, and Hepa filtration in every classroom. If CO2 readings exceeded 800, rooms were evacuated and classes continued in sheltered outdoor spaces, also used for eating. Everyone is vaccinated.

Although I don’t intend to set up a school, the Abrome project inspired me to think out of the box. Using their Covid safe template, why not try to re-create something similar, albeit on a much smaller scale (four to six third year students) somewhere close to home – Galway?

I visualise it as a kind of community bubble with children of the same age meeting up to learn, play and breathe clean air in a Covid safe space. As large or small a gathering as demand and logistics permit.

Having read about Abrome in my recent Irish Independent article, a mother in Dublin messaged me to say it prompted a conversation among friends about whether they could do something similar. I like that. Starting a conversation. Putting an idea and a dollop of hope out into the world and see what comes back.

If this column was an advert it would read:

WANTED: 14-year-olds – and a teacher – who don’t want to be (re)infected with a neurotropic, vascular, SARS-CoV-2 virus at school this year. No excuse required.

I don’t know if anything will come of this, but I do know it’s better to have tried and failed than to have never tried at all.

To start the conversation, email:

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune:

Connacht Tribune Digital Edition App

Download the Connacht Tribune Digital Edition App to access to Galway’s best-selling newspaper. Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

Or purchase the Digital Edition for PC, Mac or Laptop from Pagesuite HERE.

Get the Connacht Tribune Live app

The Connacht Tribune Live app is the home of everything that is happening in Galway City and county. It’s completely FREE and features all the latest news, sport and information on what’s on in your area. Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

More like this:

Sign Up To get Weekly Sports UPDATES

Go Up