The Government has relaxed physical distancing recommendations from two metres to just one for adults in classrooms in schools participating in a summer education programme for children with intellectual disabilities.

Public health guidelines for the programmes, published yesterday evening, advise that physical distancing "of at least one metre" should be maintained in the classroom "as far as possible".

However, children taking part in the programmes will not be expected to comply with any social distancing. 

The summer programmes are due to begin in just over a week's time.

The guidelines state that while physical distancing is recommended to reduce the spread of infection in the workplace, social distancing in schools running the programmes "must be applied in a practical way, recognising the nature of a learning environment".

While just one metre physical distancing is expected of adults working in the classroom, the guidelines state that outside of the classroom, in areas such as staff rooms, adults involved in the programmes should maintain two metre distance "where possible".

Echoing comments made by Minister for Education Joe McHugh in the Dáil earlier this week, they state that for children with intellectual disabilities adherence to social distancing restrictions would "not be practical or reasonable to implement".

The guidelines are likely to be of great interest to schools concerned at how the Government’s intention to fully reopen schools for all students in September will be managed.

Schools are still awaiting public health guidelines to govern that return.

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A report published earlier this month found that a full reopening for all students would not be possible with two metre or even one metre social distancing restrictions for students.

It found that for primary schools just half of all students would be able to attend at any one time if a one metre regime was in place. 

As expected, the guidelines issued to schools taking part in the July programmes advise against the wearing of face coverings, which they say will conceal facial expression and make communication difficult.

However, they say that the wearing of a visor as an alternative may be considered where there is a concern that physical distancing cannot be maintained, where there will be prolonged close contact and/or exposure to fluid or respiratory droplets is likely.

They state that "the focus should be on emphasising that parents/guardians should have a heightened awareness of signs, symptoms or changes in baseline which might suggest illness/Covid-19 infection and where symptoms are present, children should not attend the school".

More than 200 schools have registered to run the programmes.

In what could be regarded as a "dry run" for the reopening of all schools in the autumn, these schools will be the first to open their doors to students since they closed in mid-March.