Two primary schools in Dublin have said they have yet to receive any support from public health, despite asking since last Monday morning, after large clusters of Covid-19 cases were identified in individual classrooms at both schools.
Both schools have challenged an assertion made by Minister for Education Norma Foley in the Dáil on Wednesday that support was being provided to schools.
Over last weekend eight cases of the virus were recorded among children in one classroom at St Paul's Senior School in Ayrfield. The number now stands at 12, out of a class of 18.
A staff member connected with the class has also tested positive.
The school said it has been unable to make contact with public health, despite calling a special Health Service Executive helpline for principals on Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings.
A second Dublin primary school, which does not want to be identified, told RTÉ News that it phoned the helpline on Monday morning due to concerns about ten cases in one classroom.
However, despite several additional calls from the school to the HSE helpline over the course of the week it has yet to receive support.
Ms Foley told the Dáil on Wednesday that she wanted to "reiterate" that "if there are outbreaks of concern in educational facilities, public health teams continue to provide support to schools where required".
Both of these schools say this is not the case.
"I have no evidence of that happening", Principal of St Paul's Senior School Feargal Brougham said, adding that as of 5pm yesterday he is "still waiting".
The second school principal called the minister’s comments "nonsense" and "a lie".
"They take our query, log it, and then public health ignores it," he said.
Mr Brougham said St Paul's made its own decision to close the class in question for the week.
In the absence of any public health guidance the class will remain closed at least for the first few days of next week, with children being instructed by their teacher online.
He said that over the course of the week he was told on the HSE helpline that he would get a response within 48 hours, then within 72 hours, then that they were "extremely busy" but that his request would be prioritised.
Mr Brougham has also appealed for "honesty" from the authorities about what is happening in primary schools.
"I would ask that public health revisit their assurances that children are not transmitting the virus in schools. When community transmission is at such a height I don't believe that any mitigation measures can stop it from spreading in the classroom too."
He said St Paul's has adhered "absolutely" to all restrictions and recommendations made for schools. He said
despite this "very robust" response the past four weeks has seen Covid-19 take a hold in the school.
He has appealed for a return of professional contact tracing in schools as a matter of urgency. He has also appealed for school staff working in geographical areas where incidence is high to be prioritised for booster jabs.
"This is going to hit harder," he said, "and I don't want other schools or communities to go through what we have been going through".
RTÉ News asked the HSE why support from these schools was not forthcoming and whether other schools had found themselves in a similar position this week.
The HSE said that schools are informed on the principals helpline "that Departments of Public Health are extremely busy".
"As with any clinical service, Departments of Public Health clinically prioritise their work with a necessary focus on high risk settings and vulnerable populations. Departments of Public Health continue to highly prioritise Special Educational classes and schools and these facilities receive swift support from teams."