Teachers and older students will be required to wear face coverings in the classroom when schools return, under official health advice issued yesterday evening.
Updated guidelines from the HSE's Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) now require the wearing of face coverings in schools, similar to those worn in shops or on public transport, when a two-metre distance cannot be kept.
All students at post-primary level, apart from specific exemptions, will be required to wear face coverings in the classroom. Staff, including teachers at both primary and post-primary levels, who cannot maintain a two-metre distance from students or other staff, will also be required to wear them.
The coverings will also be required on all school buses, and special needs assistants (SNAs) will also be required to wear them, or in certain situations clear visors, in the classroom.
The new guidelines follow calls from teaching unions to clarify if the health advice to schools, issued before changes to public policy that saw face coverings become mandatory, should be reviewed.
Education Minister Norma Foley yesterday moved to assure schools that she has been working with health authorities to ensure that the advice underpinning a safe reopening is fully up to date.
The HPSC confirmed that the recommendations published at the beginning of July still apply in schools, bar the advice on face coverings which has now been updated.
A “considerable portion” of the €375m package announced last week to help schools reopen has already been paid, said Ms Foley.
This has allowed schools to make “vital progress” in implementing necessary changes to safely reopen, by creating more space or installing additional hand-washing stations.
The updated guidelines have been welcomed by the teaching unions.
"Schools will have the option of ordering face coverings centrally on the newly established government procurement portal," said John Boyle of the Irish National Teachers' Organisation.
Both the Teachers' Union of Ireland and the Association of Secondary Teachers, Ireland have called for the required resources to be issued as soon as possible ahead of schools reopening.