Parents' representatives have told the Oireachtas Special Committee on Covid-19 Response that a majority of parents want their children to return to school fully at the beginning of the school year.

In her opening statement, CEO of the National Parents Council Primary Aine Lynch said the long school closure had impacted on some children more than others.

She said a survey carried out by the organisation found that over 90% of parents said it was important that children return to school fully. 

Ms Lynch told the committee that all schools should be supported to identify those children where the closure has had a greater impact.

President of the National Parents Council Post Primary Mai Fanning said it was important that students return to normality in education as soon as is safely possible.

She also said when schools reopen they must have sufficient hand-washing facilities and available hot water and hand sanitisers to satisfy the hygiene requirements.

Fianna Fáil's Paul McAuliffe said there was a need to return to school as soon as possible and asked how the lack of a digital platform had impacted on children during the lockdown. 

Ms Lynch said there was a digital divide in homes and schools and a lack of digital access for some children, which did have a severe impact on them.

She also said that motivation around learning at home was a key barrier for children.

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has said he is confident it is possible to manage a full reopening of schools and colleges in the autumn.

He said there is now a "new normal", but added that could all change if the virus returns.

Sinn Féin's Kathleen Funchion said she does not think it will be possible for children to return to school five days a week in September, and asked if a two or three day week should be considered to ease children back in.

Ms Lynch said there has never been a situation like this before and some children may experience separation anxiety.

She said it is important that schools are seen as a supportive environment.

Read more:
Unions say schools must be 'Covid secure' before reopening
No strict requirement for primary school pupils to distance
Latest coronavirus stories

Yesterday interim public health guidance to govern the reopening of schools in late August and September was published and recommended one-metre physical distancing between second level students in the classroom.

A report published last month found that not all year groups would be able to attend school at the same time under such a scenario.

The Health Policy Surveillance Centre (HPSC) advice also recommends a one-metre physical distancing between primary school pupils in class.

However, it states that this is "not a prerequisite" for younger pupils. It also qualifies that this should only be "whenever possible" when older children are organised into small groups together in the class.

The HPSC guidance says a balance is needed between "a practical and sensible level of caution" and the need to provide a supportive environment for pupils.

It says the approach of schools should be two pronged, with everything possible done to avoid introduction of Covid-19 into a school in the first place, as well as other measures directed towards reducing the likelihood of spread.

As well as a detailed outlining of hygiene and cleaning measures, the guidance requires staff to confirm upon arrival at school every day that they do not have symptoms.

It says schools should have the right to decline entry to pupils if a child displays symptoms such as a fever.

While they state that staff should maintain a minimum physical distance of one metre and where possible two metres from pupils, it acknowledges that this might not always be possible.

It advises that classes should be kept apart as much as possible, with staggered break and lunch times, and possibly staggered arrival and departure times as well.

At second level the HPSC advice states that students should remain in the same classroom as much as possible, with teachers moving between classes.