Return to School August 2022
This will be the third year that we have produced a video/published information and template letters on Return to School for parents.
To recap, the video/information released in August 2020 covered the following topics:
- Contact Tracing;
- Face Coverings;
- Temperature Checking; and
- Isolation and Detention of children who are suspected cases of Covid-19.
While the video/information released in August 2021 covered the following topics:
- The rights of a school to ask whether your child has been vaccinated against Covid-19;
- The rights of a school to require your child’s temperature to be checked each day as a condition of admission;
- The age at which a child can provide consent to medical treatment without parental knowledge or consent;
- Whether it would be possible to make mandatory in law the Covid-19 vaccine for children in schools;
- Whether one parent or two parent consent is required for medical treatment for your child;
- What is informed consent.
- Can your child’s school require that they be tested for Covid 19 using a PCR test if they are a close contact.
This years video/information release will cover the following topics:
- Current Covid-19 school policies, including the requirement to complete a return to school health form for your child;
- Vaccines in schools, including whether the school can ask if your child has been vaccinated against Covid-19 and whether parents can be refused entry to information evenings depending on their covid-19 vaccination status;
- Vaccination and the Legal Age of Consent;
- Right to Opt-Out of Social, Personal and Health Education (also called SPHE) and Relationship and Sexuality Education (also called RSE); and
- Public Consultation regarding updated Junior Cycle curriculum on Social, Personal and Health Education (also called SPHE) and Relationship and Sexuality Education (also called RSE).
Current Covid-19 School Policies
You can locate all material published by the Department of Education through a search on gov.ie
The search results for the Department of Education state that this department has released 1532 publications to date. This is the location where you will find updated information on Covid-19, sex education or basically anything else that is being mandated or recommended directly by the Department of Education.
The last entry for Covid-19 was on the 25 February 2022. We do not expect that this guidance note will be updated further before the return to school this year, so we will use this as the guidance for return to school in September 2022.
Firstly, this guidance note applies to primary, secondary and special needs schools and confirms that from the 28 February 2022 all restrictions are to be removed and schools should resume normal school routines and normal teaching and learning activities.
In particular this guidance states the following:
- It is no longer a requirement for staff or students to wear a face covering in school;
- The wearing of face coverings on school transport will no longer be mandatory but will continue to be advised;
- Where schools implemented staggered drop offs or pickups or breaks, these are no longer necessary;
- There is no longer a requirement to restrict visitors to schools and schools should revert to the normal arrangements for visitors. In this context parent teacher meetings should resume and schools where parent teacher meetings have not taken place should commence these as soon as possible;
- Schools no longer need to request staff or students to complete a Return to Work form or a Return to School form after school holidays/breaks; and
- The HSE will continue with the current processes to support the provision of antigen tests to primary schools, special schools and childcare settings. Participation in antigen testing is voluntary, therefore it is not necessary for parents to share information with the school about whether they have requested antigen tests and nor to confirm negative antigen tests.
At the end of his page, you can find a template letter which confirms the lifting of all such restrictions from the 28 February 2022 – you can issue a copy of this letter to your child’s school, in the unlikely event that they seek to continue to implement any Covid-19 measures.
In our view the most likely measure that they may seek to implement is a request to complete a Return to School health form, which you will note is no longer required or recommended by the Department of Education. It is also worth noting that given that a Return to School health form is no longer recommended, any school requesting that you fill in any such form is likely to run afoul of Data Protection laws, as there is no longer any lawful basis to request such information.
Vaccines in Schools
Information on immunisation in schools can be found on the HSE.ie website under their Schools Programme. As of 25 August 2022, we can confirm that this page was last updated on the 25 April 2022. This website confirms that: – “In September the HSE school immunisation teams deliver consent packs to Primary and Secondary schools across the country for children in Junior Infants and students in First Year.”
This consent pack will include:
- A letter from your local immunisation team;
- Information about the vaccines your child will be offered;
- A consent form; and
- An envelope.
Be aware that there is no legal requirement for you to answer or fill in the HSE consent form. It should be noted that if you do decide to fill in this consent form, this website states that: – “The information you add to your child’s consent form will be added to the HSE School Immunisation System.”
In the event that you do not consent to your child being administered with the Covid-19 or any other vaccine, you can find a template non consent letter at the end of this page, that you may use and issue to your child’s school.
Once or if you submit this non-consent letter to the school, they will obviously know that your child has not received the Covid-19 injection, so it is probably unlikely that they will seek any further information on the covid vaccine, however, in the unlikely event that the school asks if your child has been vaccinated against Covid-19, the law confirms that there is no lawful basis under general Data protection laws, that would allow the school to ask this question.
We have also included a template letter to this effect at the end of this page.
The next question that arises is whether your child’s school can ask if you, the parent or guardian has been vaccinated against Covid-19, failing which you will be refused entry to face to face parent teacher meetings and information nights. Once again, the law confirms that there is no lawful basis under general Data Protection laws, that would allow the school to ask this question or refuse you entry on the basis of a refusal to answer this question.
Again, we have included a template letter to this effect at the end of this webpage.
Vaccination and The Legal Age of Consent
When we talk about the age of consent for minors the relevant piece of legislation is section 23 of the Non-Fatal Offences against the Person Act 1997, which provides that a person over the age of 16 years can give consent to surgical, medical or dental treatment without needing to obtain consent from their parents or legal guardian.
The first issues, therefore, to note is that if your child is over the age of 16 years, they may be approached in the school or by their GP to see if they want the Covid-19 vaccine, so you should ensure that your child is educated on the risks versus the benefits of this vaccine, ensure they are aware that they may be approached while in school, and ensure they know that the vaccine is not mandatory regardless of what they are told by the school or health care provider.
The law with regard to children under the age of 16 is a little less straight forward in this country. I say this given guidance issues by the HSE in their National Consent Policy version 1.3, which at Part 2 deals with children and minors and confirms that the age of consent with respect to surgical, medical or dental treatments is 16 years of age, however, this policy goes on to state that a mature minor – so this is a child under the age of 16 years (with no lower age limit) who is considered by the health care provider to have sufficient understanding and intelligence to enable that child to understand what is being proposed, can give consent to their own medical treatment, without parental consent or knowledge. The HSE Consent Policy goes on to state that the concept of mature minor is accepted in many other jurisdictions such as Northern Ireland, Scotland, New Zealand, Australia and Canada.
With regard to children under the age of 16 years, we would again advise you to ensure that your child is educated on the risks versus the benefits of this vaccine, ensure they are aware that they may be approached while in school, and ensure they know that the vaccine is not mandatory. With regard to children under the age of 16 years, we would also advise that you send both your child’s school and their GP a non-consent form advising that you do not consent to the Covid-19 vaccine being given to your child without your prior written consent and confirming that your child does not have the maturity, understanding or intelligence to give informed consent without parental involvement and that in this regard should a decision be made by the school or healthcare provider that your child is considered a mature minor, that you shall hold them personally liable for loss, damage, injury and interference with your constitutional rights to safeguard the welfare of your child.
Social, Personal and Health Education (“SPHE”) and Relationship and Sexuality Education (“RSE”)
Ireland currently has a subject called Social, Personal and Health Education, with Relationships and Sexuality Education being a key aspect of this SPHE course.
RSE has been a compulsory course in Irish schools since the late 1990’s and it is said that the current SPHE curriculum (which includes RSE) being taught in Irish schools has not been significantly updated since 1999. That said, we would strongly encourage you to check whether the SPHE curriculum applicable to your child’s school has been updated in any way, as this time last year we received some reports of concerning updates to lessons being taught to those in Junior and Senior Infants.
Right to Opt-Out of Current or Future SPHE/RSE
First and foremost, as parents or guardians, you have the right to request that you child does not attend any aspect of the school curriculum that you choose. This right derives from the Constitution of Ireland, which contains a number of articles relevant to the law on education.
Article 42 of the Constitution deals specifically with education. Other articles also have a bearing on education law, in particular the articles dealing with the family and religion (Articles 41 and 44).
Articles 41 and Article 42 dealing with Education and the Family have been the subject of a number of court decisions, which have found the following:
- The family is the main source of education for the child. Parents are entitled to provide education outside the school system if they wish.
- The state may not force parents to send their children to any school or any particular kind of school.
- The state may require that the children receive a certain minimum education. This certain minimum has not yet been defined in legislation or in official policy. Many of the court cases have been about the precise meaning of that phrase.
- The state is obliged to provide for free primary education – this means up to the age of 18 years
In relation to Minimum education -The Education (Welfare) Act 2000 does not give a definition of “minimum education”. However, it does allow the Minister to set out a “prescribed minimum education”.
In addition to the Constitutional protections offered, the Education Act 1998 also specifically states the following at section: –
“30 (2) (e) the Minister— shall not require any student to attend instruction in any subject which is contrary to the conscience of the parent of the student or in the case of a student who has reached the age of 18 years, the student.”
It is therefore settled, that parents and guardians may withdraw their child from any part of the school’s curriculum that they choose. The issue that arises is what happens to your child if you choose to opt out of SPHE or any other part of the curriculum.
We have been advised that in such cases, the school will advise you that you must come and collect your child and remove them from the school while any such programmes are being taught. This would make it almost impossible for most parents to freely exercise their right to opt out and would instead put parents into a position of duress in accepting that their child partakes in a programme of teaching that is against their conscience.
Unfortunately, there is no simple answer to this problem, we would therefore advise that you explore the following options:
- Talk to other parents to see if you can increase the number of parents willing to opt their children out of this programme as this would put more pressure on the school to find an alternative teaching space and supervision while the SPHE programme is ongoing.
- Request that anyone opting out of such programmes be allowed to spend this time in the school library.
- Try to identify other students who are also not parking in the SPHE programme and see if their parents would be open to agreeing a supervision rota. If the SPHE class is only scheduled to take place once a week a rota arrangement with other parents may be the best option.
- The final suggestion we would offer is to try to apply pressure to the school from within – and by this we mean to apply to join the Parents Association of your child’s school – noting that the membership of any such association is open to all parents of students of that school. In the event that your child’s school does not currently have a parents association, it should be noted that the Education Act 1998 states: – “The board shall promote contact between the school, parents of students in that school and the community and shall facilitate and give all reasonable assistance to parents who wish to establish a parents’ association and to a parents’ association when it is established.”
We have included a template letter at the end of this webpage that you may use if you wish to request that your child opt out of SPHE including RSE and also asking that the school make reasonable accommodations to facilitate any such opt out.
Public Consultation of Social, Personal and Health Education (“SPHE”) and Relationship and Sexuality Education (“RSE”)
There is currently an open public consultation on the new draft SPHE and RSE curriculum for Junior Cycle. This consultation opened on 18 July 2022 and will close on 18 October 2022. During this time, it is open to anyone to make a written submission on the new proposed curriculum.
The desire to review the SPHE and RSE curriculum has been ongoing for several years and, in fact, commenced in April 2018, when the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment were asked to undertake a major review of Relationships and Sexuality Education in primary and post-primary schools to ensure that it was fit for purpose in modern Ireland.
In December 2019, the NCCA published a report of its review.
The NCCA subsequently established two subject development groups, one for primary and one secondary schools, to oversee the development of guidance material for schools.
The first curriculum to be redeveloped was the Junior Cycle SPHE short course. This draft document was published in July 2022 and it is this document that is the subject of a consultation phase until 18 October 2022.
What does the new curriculum cover?
It covers topics ranging from bias, inequality or exclusion to development of emotional resilience and addiction. In relation to relationships and sexuality in particular, it includes topics like healthy, unhealthy and abusive relationships, human sexuality and gender identity, consent, the importance of safer sexual activity including contraception, and the influence of digital media including pornography and the sharing of digital images online.
We have included a link at the end of this webpage to the updated proposed curriculum so that you can review it in full.
Some Issues of Concern
Under “Expectations for Students: Strand 1 – Understanding Myself and Others” it states that students should be able to: –
- “appreciate that sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression are core parts of human identity and that each is experienced along a spectrum; reflect on gender equity and how gender stereotypes impact on expectations, behaviour and relationships; discuss experiences/situations of bias, inequality or exclusion based on race/ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation and devise ways to create more inclusive environments”
Under “Expectations for Students: Strand 3 – Relationships and Sexuality” it states: –
- “explore human sexuality – what it means, how it is expressed, what healthy sexual expression might look like and the difference between sexuality and sexual activity; discuss the values, behaviours and skills that help to make, maintain and end relationships respectfully (friends, family and romantic/intimate relationships); investigate the influence of digital media (in particular, the influence of pornography) on young people’s understanding, expectations and social norms in relation to sexual expression”
Under Appendix 2 “Glossary of Key Terms for SPHE”, terms such as the following are include: –
- Gender expression; Gender identities; Heterosexism; Homophobia and transphobia, LGBTQI+; Spectrum of sexual orientations.
We believe that the new SPHE/RSE course curriculum is nothing short of ideological poison, which seeks to subvert your good nature as a human being in order to indoctrinate your children into a world of delusion and servitude.
The academic literature supporting these ideas has been carefully studied and accurately interpreted by many public intellectuals including James Lindsey and in places like the state of Florida, Governor Ron DeSantis has gone so far as to ban teaching gender and queer theory, and critical race theory for that matter, to primary school children and it must also be said that this move was overwhelmingly supported by families in Florida.
We would strongly encourage you to review the draft Junior Cycle short course curriculum and submit your views through the consultation process. With respect to the consultation, you can either fill out the SPHE parent/guardian feedback survey directly through the NCCA website, or alternatively you can write your own submission and email it to [email protected]
For your convenience, we have drafted a submission that you may submit to the NCCA expressing your disagreement with the proposed draft junior cycle short course curriculum. You can find this draft submission (which you may adapt as you feel appropriate) at the end of this webpage.