Coronavirus: Peter Weir's decision to attend indoor prize giving defended

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Peter WeirImage source, Department of Education
Image caption,
The Department of Education said the event was moved indoors due to the weather

The Department of Education has defended Peter Weir's decision to attend a P7 leavers' event indoors.

The education minister attended a prize giving ceremony on Monday and pictures of the event were posted on the department's twitter feed.

However, previous Education Authority guidance said schools should not arrange leavers' events which would breach coronavirus restrictions.

A department spokesperson said the awards were inside due to poor weather.

They also said that appropriate social-distancing measures were in place at all times.

Some principals and teachers had criticised Mr Weir on social media.

'One at a time'

The Education Authority had previously issued guidance to a number of principals after queries about whether it was possible to hold P7 leavers' celebrations.

The authority's advice said it was understandable many parents and schools might wish to mark the end of term for the outgoing P7 pupils, but it was not permitted.

"Under current public health regulations, pupils should not be on school premises, unless a school is providing supervising learning centre for children of key workers and vulnerable children and the pupils attending fall into these categories," the EA guidance said.

Image source, EPA
Image caption,
The department said gloves and sanitiser were both used at the event

"In respect of schools having celebrations for their P7 leavers, the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2020, currently permit the meeting up of friends or family outdoors, up to a maximum of six people, who must maintain at least two metres distance and maintain hand and respiratory hygiene practices.

"Schools should not be arranging P7 leaver celebrations which would breach these regulations.

"EA's legal advice is that such gatherings of pupils and staff at this time would constitute a breach of legislation and public health guidance."

However, a department spokesperson said the event at a primary school in County Down had originally been planned outdoors.

"Awards were presented inside the school hall due to poor weather," they said.

"Appropriate social distancing measures were in place at all times, including the use of gloves and hand sanitiser.

"Pupils were brought in one at a time with their family to receive their award at an appropriate distance from those attending the event."

On Monday, the executive agreed that up to six people could meet indoors from Tuesday 23 June.