On Friday evening, Peter Weir said that all schools and other education setting will reopen in the first week of January.
“My main priority has always been to protect our children’s education, mental health and well-being,” the minister said.
“I believe that this can best be achieved through face-to-face learning and social engagement in schools.
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“I am mindful of the impact the pandemic is having on our children and young people, particularly those who are vulnerable and from disadvantaged backgrounds. We have a high number of vulnerable children in Northern Ireland, for many of these pupils school is a safe haven and closing schools will immediately deprive them of this safe space.
“That is why I have decided that it is in the best interests of all pupils for schools to open in the first week of January so that their education is not disrupted any further.” Mr Weir thanked school leaders, teachers and staff for their “tremendous work, under very difficult circumstances, to keep schools safe”.
He added: “I know that they will continue to reinforce departmental guidance, including the appropriate wearing of masks within schools and on school transport.
“For my part, I will consider what further steps can be taken to help and support schools and will continue to seek the views of principals, school staff and pupils on this issue.
“Finally, I want to wish principals, school staff, pupils and everyone who works in education a Happy Christmas. The New Year will bring challenges but by continuing to work together we can get through this.”