While the U-turn on a decision to keep schools open directly after the Christmas break has been welcomed, the Education Minister has faced criticism for not acting sooner.
Minister Peter Weir today (Thursday) decided against most pupils returning to school in the first week of January, as he had originally planned.
Instead, primary school pupils will be taught remotely until 11 January, after which they will return to the classroom.
For some post-primary pupils (Years 8-11), online learning will be in place for the entire month of January.
Mr Weir said the move was in response to the level of Covid-19 transmission and high case numbers.
But SDLP Upper Bann MLA Dolores Kelly has urged the minister to provide detailed guidance and support for teachers.
Mrs Kelly said that it is “extremely disappointing that the Minister had to be dragged to this position after the SDLP recalled the Assembly today”.
“I welcome the fact that Minister Weir, in the face of mounting medical evidence and pleas from teachers and parents, has postponed the return of pupils to schools,” she said.
“However yet again, Minister Weir has failed to take immediate, proactive measures to support our pupils, parents and teachers; instead he was dragged into action by the SDLP.
“It has been clear for days now that Covid-19 cases are surging in all of our communities but delay, inaction and lack of leadership from this Minister has caused needless stress and anxiety for pupils, parents and teachers.
“The Minister must now produce detailed guidance for schools and provide support to assist our young people with online learning, particularly those in areas of disadvantage.
“It is also essential that Minister Weir works with teachers and principals to ensure schools are prepared to welcome pupils back to school safely, when the medical evidence suggests it is appropriate to do so.”
Mrs Kelly said there are a lot of questions yet to be answered.
“Young people, their parents and their teachers deserve assurances of safety and the SDLP will not stop until they get them.”