Unions issue warning about schools reopening after mid-term

Unions issue warning about schools reopening after mid-term

A teacher measuring and marking places in the classroom for returning of students after the coronavirus pandemic. Picture: iStock

As the country moves to level five restrictions, education unions have warned that the safe reopening of schools after the mid-term break will depend on improvements in contact tracing and safety measures. 

On Monday, the teaching unions and Fórsa, which represents 15,000 non-teaching staff members including special needs assistants (SNAs), met with representatives of the National Public Health Emergency Team to discuss their concerns.

The current arrangements for schools have not been sufficient to keep pace with the rise in cases, according to Fórsa.

This means that some schools have been “left to fend for themselves” without HSE intervention, resulting in decisions to send year groups home or close schools completely.

The current provisions in place under level five restrictions are “insufficient”, according to head of education at Fórsa Andy Pike.

“If schools are to stay open under level five, the Government must maintain confidence, and keep its side of the bargain by doing everything possible to keep staff safe,” he said. 

The Irish National Teachers’ Organisation has also called for the urgent publication of confirmed Covid-19 cases in schools, as well as a clear explanation of the difference between a close and casual contact in the school setting.

The union has also sought an urgent review of the policy of wearing face coverings by pupils and school staff, more protective measures for primary and special schools in light of level five restrictions, and an evidence-based public health decision on schools.

INTO general secretary John Boyle said: “The successful reopening of schools on November 2 will depend on the preventative and protective measures that are put in place by the Government in the interim.”

General secretary of the Association of Secondary Teachers' Ireland Kieran Christie said: "The issue of contact tracing is coming up a lot and it was disheartening that there was an admission that contact tracing is not as efficient as it should be." 

“When schools reopened in August, numbers were a lot lower than they are now. It demands a review as to whether they remain adequate to where we find ourselves at this point in time.” 

The Teachers' Union of Ireland (TUI) has also sought an audit to ensure that schools have the necessary resources to ensure full compliance with public health advice. 

Dedicated public health teams will be put in place in each HSE area to assist schools when a positive case of Covid-19 is identified, according to education minister Norma Foley. 

“I acknowledge that there will always be concerns,” she told RTÉ Radio. 

“When schools closed in March there was concern whether we could ever successfully reopen schools. But because of the efforts of all, there has been a very safe and successful return to the opening of schools.”

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