Closing schools for bad weather not an open and shut case: principal

A lollipop lady at Orangefield Primary School in east Belfast that was open on Wednesday

A Belfast principal who opened his school during Wednesday’s adverse weather has said it was not an easy decision to make.

More than 280 schools across Northern Ireland shut their doors amid heavy snow, forcing thousands of parents to find alternative childcare arrangements.

Ligoniel Primary School was one of almost 300 across Northern Ireland that closed on Wednesday

There was mixed reaction from parents on social media, with some speaking out in support of the schools that took the decision to close.

Others, however, felt that the spell of wintry weather did not warrant such a move and felt many principals were being unduly cautious.

One person wrote: “I feel schools should be closed, for safety of staff and children. Don’t go out if you can avoid it. Education isn’t much good if you are in a crash, hurt badly or even worse killed.”

But another posted:”There’s not even enough snow in Crossgar to make a snowball, yet I had to walk out of work and lock up as my daughter’s school closed.”

One school which did decide to stay open despite the weather conditions was Orangefield Primary in east Belfast.

Principal Ernie Long told the News Letter that the decision to open as usual was not taken lightly.

“Each school has their own individual circumstances and I felt it was feasible to open our doors,” he added.

“Most of my teachers are local and live within a radius of five or six miles. That being said, I thanked each and every one of them when they came through the doors.

“However, making the call to open a school when there is adverse weather is a risky one. There is always a danger you could end up with egg on your face.

“You don’t want to be in a position of ending up having to send the pupils home because staff are not able to make it in, or phone parents at work to tell them to come and pick up their children.

“But the way I see it, if you don’t open the school you are putting a lot of parents at a disadvantage by forcing many of them to arrange childcare at the last minute.

“You are putting yourself out on a limb really no matter what you do. It is not an easy decision for principals to make and they don’t do it lightly.

“By the same token I think parents have a lot of faith in principals to make the right call and will stand by the school in whatever decision is made.”

Former education minister Peter Weir said principals are often in a very difficult situation when it comes to determining whether a school should remain open during periods of heavy snow.

He told the News Letter: “It is difficult to second guess the decision made by principals as each school has its own individual circumstances.

“It is up to the judgment of each principal as to whether they feel it is right to open or not.

“Principals always want to keep their schools open if possible and sometimes they can get it wrong, but the situation is often beyond their control.”

While he said he understood the frustration of some parents who were forced to make last-minute childcare plans, the DUP MLA said it is the case that principals are often in a “no-win position”.

“If they ignore the bad weather, open, and something happens to a pupil or member of staff, then schools are often castigated for not taking a different approach,” the Strangford Assembly member added.

“We need to have sympathy for the people taking these decisions rather than criticising them.”

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