Delaying the reopening of a school is the only “acceptable” option should it not be ready in time to open with the appropriate physical distancing requirements in place.
That’s according to the Teachers’ Union of Ireland who today have published a survey of 120 second-level schools ahead of the beginning of the new academic year.
Among the challenges encountered by schools in preparing to reopen safely include difficulties in employing contractors to make adjustments to school buildings. The majority of schools surveyed also reported very high-risk teachers among staff members, and difficulties recruiting substitute teachers.
“There can be no departure from the specified physical distancing measures in schools,” said Michael Gillespie, TUI general secretary.
TUI members will also not accept any departures from public health guidance on face coverings, and the union believes a school should not open until it is fully reconfigured to ensure that physical distancing measures can be adhered to.
Separately, the Association of Secondary Teachers, Ireland has asked Stephen Donnelly, the health minister, to intervene to secure a meeting between the union and the Health Protection Surveillance Centre about arrangements in place for 'high risk' teachers.
The union says it is receiving a “significant” number of calls from teachers whose illnesses include chronic kidney disease, cancer, and serious heart disease, who are required to return to school.
Fórsa, the union that represents special needs assistants and school secretaries, has also sought an urgent meeting with the Department of Education. It is concerned that standard occupational health advice and new guidance issued by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform give "insufficient protections" against Covid-19 to classroom-based staff with underlying health problems.
“SNAs can’t practise social distancing and do their job because they work so closely with the students they give personal care to," said Andy Pike, head of education at Fórsa. "As things stand, this means they will be exposed to the highest level of risk."
Meanwhile, Micheál Martin has insisted that Leaving Cert calculated grades will be different to the system in the UK. "I think we're in a better position than in the UK. And we're taking more time with it, which is important. We're different to the British system insofar [as] teachers would have sent in percentages, not grades."
There will be briefings with the opposition, and there'll be more discussion, he added.