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Coronavirus: Special Schools In Belfast Closed From Today

March 16, 2020

All 10 special schools in Belfast are to close indefinitely from Monday because of coronavirus.

Principals said this would allow them to seek clear guidance on the health and safety issues facing their pupils.

Some principals had previously expressed concerns over the effect of coronavirus on pupils with complex needs.

A number of other schools in Northern Ireland have also announced short term closures.

All schools and colleges in the Republic of Ireland have closed, but this is not the case in Northern Ireland.

Eleven new cases of coronavirus were confirmed in Northern Ireland on Sunday, bringing the total to 45.

In a joint message to parents, Belfast special school principals said their schools would close from Monday.

“This will allow principals to seek clear guidance from the Education Authority (EA) on the considerable health and safety issues concerning the well-being and vulnerability of children with special needs in relation to the COVID-19 virus,” it said.

BBC News NI was told by a representative of the principals that the closure would last “indefinitely” until direction came from the EA.

The schools affected are: Fleming Fulton school, Glenveagh Special School, Harberton School, Park School, Mitchell House, Greenwood, St Gerard’s, Clarawood, Cedar Lodge and Oakwood School.

All have pupils with special educational needs (SEN) which range from moderate to profound, including some with life-limiting conditions.

Voluntary closures

Meanwhile, a number of other schools in Northern Ireland have also decided to close in the short term.

Dean Maguirc College in Carrickmore in County Tyrone is to close until at least 30 March.

In a message to parents, the school governors said that their decision had been taken “to curtail the spread of the coronavirus.”

Other schools, including Lisneal College in Londonderry and St Joseph’s Grammar in Donaghmore have said they are closing to pupils on Monday for one day only.

The schools said that would allow staff to prepare online learning materials for pupils in the event of a longer closure.

A number of primary schools in north Belfast have also told parents they will close on Monday as they await further guidance and hygiene materials from the EA.

Many schools will then close as planned on Tuesday for St Patrick’s Day.

BBC News NI understands that the Department of Education plans to issue updated coronavirus guidance to schools on Monday.

Education Minister Peter Weir said on Sunday he would continue to be guided “by the science and professional health advice”.

He added: “The Department is continuing to work on the preparations for education moving ahead as well and is aiming to give more public health advice to schools tomorrow.

“In this critical time let us all keep calm heads to help save lives and try to move forward together.”

First Minister Arlene Foster said on Saturday school closures would be introduced when “medical evidence” advised it was necessary but they could last up to 16 weeks.

Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill has repeatedly called for schools in Northern Ireland to close immediately.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood and Archibishop Eamon Martin, the leader of the Catholic Church in Ireland, also said schools should shut now.

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