It was announced on Thursday that some pupils — those aged up to primary three — will be back in class for two weeks from March 8, only to return to remote learning as pupils in the GCSE and A-level year groups return for a short time until the Easter break.
TUV MLA Jim Allister described that approach as “hokey cokey nonsense” and “a shameful way to treat pupils”.
Mr Wilson’s party leader, First Minister Arlene Foster, said that there was a lack of support in the Stormont Executive for the return of all pupils proposed by her party colleague, Education Minister Peter Weir.
The DUP leader said: “This week’s announcement is far from the perfect structure, but it is a step in the right direction. I want to see children back in school.”
East Antrim MP Mr Wilson, meanwhile, said “reason seems to have gone out the window” and pinned the blame on “ridiculous demands” made by medical advisors.
Mr Wilson said the decision to keep schools shut to the majority of pupils had been driven by “medical people making sure they cover their backsides, so that they’re not blamed for any increase in deaths or infections.”
He told the News Letter Mr Weir had fought to try and get “all the children in all the schools” back next month, but had been opposed during a meeting of the Stormont Executive by Health Minister Robin Swann and his advisors.
“We have got to get to a point where we get this into perspective where don’t allow medical officers and doctors to dictate overall policy for the country,” the East Antrim MP said.
“And that’s what it is — you’ve got unelected medical people who are now dictating policy, and detrimentally impacting on the lives of children and the ability of schools to deliver what schools need to deliver.”
Mr Wilson’s comments were criticised by the health minister’s party leader, UUP boss Steve Aiken, who described the remarks as “contemptuous”.
Education minister Peter Weir said he would have ideally liked to have seen all pupils returning on March 8, but said there were “clearly concerns” from the broader public health point of view.
“I think its important that the aim is to get every group back into school,” he told the BBC.
Sammy Wilson said: “Like the education minister, I would prefer to be welcoming the return of all the children rather than a phased return.
“My understanding is that the minister wanted all the children in all the schools back by the seventh of March, but the Health Minister[Robin Swann] and the health advisors refused to allow that, and the Executive backed that.
“To get children back to school at all is welcome — for the good of the children and also the good of the workforce, because don’t forget that as long as children are tied at home that parents are tied at home as well.”
He added: “If you want to get the economy open you’ve got to get the schools open as well.
“I think it was disappointing that the medical people are still holding out with these ridiculous demands that the group of people who are least likely to spread covid are still being kept incarcerated at home with all of the educational disadvantage that that gives.
“The people who are most affected by this are those who were already struggling educationally. We are only widening the gap. It’s a double whammy.”
Mr Wilson continued: “Some of these medical people have now just taken it into their heads they can almost play God with society, and that if they demand these things politicians have got to implement them. They’re not politicians, they’re advisers. Politicians are the people who have to decide these things, not some covid-obsessed medical advisors.”
Responding, UUP leader Steve Aiken said: “Sammy Wilson`s contemptuous remarks about ‘these medical people’ is a typical low blow from him. If Sammy Wilson was a man of his word and had any principles, he would demand his own ministers vote against these proposals in the Executive rather attacking members of the Health Service, knowing that they can`t come out publicly and defend themselves.”
He added: “It’s groundhog day with Sammy Wilson, coming out with his own dubious version of events without knowing the full context of decision making within the Executive.”
DUP leader Arlene Foster said: “We are mindful at all times of the risks of the virus but as covid-19 numbers reduce, my DUP colleagues and I will continue to build support for the earliest possible return of pupils into school.
“The support is not there at the moment amongst Executive colleagues.”
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