Maintaining fully staffed schools in the event of teacher absences will be necessary for the planned full return to classrooms, given that the most recent public health advice forbids the attendance of anyone with symptoms.
With the current guidelines advising that teachers or pupils do not attend school if they have any symptoms of Covid-19, staffing is expected to be an issue for schools when they reopen.
Talks on re-opening classrooms are set to continue on Tuesday between officials in the Department of Education, and teaching unions, school management bodies, and principal representative groups.
“For a full reopening of schools, a full level of staffing, including substitution for all absences, will be required," a spokesman for the Irish National Teachers Organisation (INTO) said.
The interim advice published by the HSE Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) asks for classes to maintain their distances in 'class bubbles', he added.
"However, where a teacher is unable to attend school, the current proposal is that this class would be merged with another," the spokesperson said. "This flies in the face of the need to maintain separate classes."
"We are asking the government to provide adequate substitute cover, expanding a pilot supply panel scheme nationally to ensure schools have ready access to substitute cover to ensure both the successful reopening of our schools and that they can remain open in the event of any health-related teacher absences.”
A number of practical, outstanding issues are set to be discussed with the Department of Education in the coming weeks. Funding for additional cleaning supplies and classroom equipment has yet to be granted for the sector. The department is currently considering the responses to a public tender on supplying infection prevention measures for schools, including hand sanitisers, disinfectants, and thermometers.
A decision has yet to be reached on the specifics of what will be needed, but it is understood that at least each class could require a hand sanitiser dispenser. The prospective bill for hand sanitisers for one term alone could total €24m. Many schools cover cleaning costs through the ancillary grant, the INTO spokesman said.
In many cases, it will not be enough to cover the increased cleaning requirements, and there needs to be a national solution.