After a five month break Newry schools began their long journey back to a different normal today with pupils returning en masse following the onset locally of Covid-19 restrictions. All schools were ordered to close by the Stormont Executive 23 March but many local ones decided to close the weekend earlier than that themselves.

School staff have been preparing this past week getting classrooms ready for the return. Of course there are now many new words on the curiculum thanks to Covid-19 including social distancing, sanitising, pandemic, face coverings, physical interaction, flattening the curve and protective bubbles.

The NI Executive published a lengthy 70 page New School Day guidance document with the document noting that there is relatively low immediate risk to children’s health from SARS-CoV- 2, with evidence indicating that children/adolescents have lower susceptibility to SARS-CoV-2 infection and clinical disease than adults.

Back to school today for these St Colman's students after a five month break due to the Covid-19  pandemic. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/
Back to school today and an ice cream to 'celebrate' for these St Colman's students after a five month break due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/

Stringent social distancing requirements were relaxed earlier this month although public health guidance with respect to social distancing of 2 metres (2m) will remain in place between adults and as far as possible between adults and pupils. Schools are advised to endeavour strenuously to implement as much social distancing as is practical where physical capacity and curriculum delivery permit. 'Protective bubbles' will be used as a key mitigating action where possible. The protective bubble arrangements will be used to segment pupils into a consistent group or groups as far as is practicable. Assembly type events are also to be avoided and one way systems will also be in place in schools.

Paul Kane, Principal of Sacred Heart Grammar School welcomed new students saying  "The Principal and staff of SHS would like to send their best wishes to all our returning students and offer a word of welcome to our new Year 8 intake. As this new and very different school year commences, know that we are all in this together, we will look out for each other, support each other and we will get through this together"

In keeping with recommendations for pupils to walk or cycle if possible Saint Patrick’s in The Meadow have adopted an Education Authority recommended “Park & Stride” scheme where St Brigid’s car park access will be used by parents and children who walk to school.

Overall it is a completely new scenario for both teachers and pupils. The first term of 2020 will certainly be spoken of in History classes for many years to come!

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