It is 'incomprehensible' that primary schools remain fully open at a time when infection levels are so high in the community that no indoor gatherings or events are allowed.
That is according to the Irish National Teachers Organisation (INTO), which has written to Minister for Education Norma Foley, in light of the recommendation from Nphet that the entire country to move to level 5 restrictions.
Under the five-level plan for living with Covid, it is the Government’s intention that schools and creches remain open in levels 1 to 4 with protective measures in place.
At Level 5, the recommendations for schools and creches are to be based on the “situation and evidence at the time”.
INTO has demanded clarity on the status of schools at Level 5.— INTO (Irish National Teachers' Organisation) (@INTOnews) October 5, 2020
Following the NPHET recommendation that the country may need to enter Level 5 restrictions, we have called for an immediate public health review on the status of schools at this level... (1/2)
Despite consultations with the department, the INTO says it has received no clarification on what protective measures apply in primary and special schools under the higher levels, according to John Boyle, INTO general secretary.
“In our view, it is inconceivable that the same protections - hand sanitising, hand washing, enhanced cleaning, ventilation, pods and bubbles - would be deemed to be sufficient at all of [Levels 1-4]," he said.
Urgent clarity is also needed around the additional measures of protection in schools at level 4, compared to what is currently in place at Level 3, including those in Dublin and Donegal where level 3 currently applies, he added.
"Crucially we now also need clarity on the plans for primary and special schools in areas where level five would apply.
“In our view it is incomprehensible that our schools, which have the largest class sizes in Europe, would remain fully open at a time where infection levels were so high in the community that no indoor gatherings or events were permissible.”
Both second-level teachers’ unions have also called for urgent meetings with the Department of Education.
The Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI), the largest second-level teachers’ union, has also called for a review of safety in schools.
"The health, safety, and welfare of all members of our school communities is of paramount importance," said Ann Piggott, president of the ASTI.
The Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) said its members are extremely worried by current events and about their health and safety in the workplace.
“We have many members with serious underlying health issues and also many members who share a household with people with underlying health issues,” said Michael Gillespie, TUI general secretary.
“We require urgent engagement in relation to what increased protections will apply to teachers in an escalation to Level 4 restrictions.”
“We have already sought detailed clarification on why it would be safe for schools to remain open at Level 5 if the rest of society is effectively locked down.”