Schools may be forced to close over the winter months if the weather gets too cold due to ventilation and heating issues as a result of Covid-19, the Oireachtas Education Committee has heard.
Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) general secretary Kieran Christie said: "As the colder weather has set in, keeping many classrooms warm, ensuring they will be appropriately ventilated, has been a big problem in schools. Teachers and students are there in their coats in many instances.
Mr Christie also told the committee that hygiene and ventilation facilities need to be upgraded and the union "remains concerned" over the differential capacity of schools to implement key aspects of the Covid-19 response plan.
He said there was a lack of communication protocols in place in schools where an outbreak of Covid-19 occurs, which needs to be addressed, and he said prioritising schools for rapid testing and tracing is also needed.
The Teachers' Union of Ireland (TUI) also warned some schools may be forced to close due to a lack of proper ventilation and heating during winter.
Its general secretary Michael Gillespie said many second-level school buildings are "not fit for purpose" and called for a full audit of each school to establish and quantify the resources needed to keep them open.
"TUI is calling for the Department of Education to take the advice of the HPSC [Health Protection Surveillance Centre] and install air quality meters in every classroom. This will ensure that student and teachers are not forced to teach and learn in freezing cold classrooms," he said.
"In the medium term, and to future-proof our education system, we must re-conceptualise school design. The current crisis has demonstrated the importance of infrastructure that is fit for purpose."
Irish National Teachers' Organisation (INTO) general secretary John Boyle said the Government should have provided a free flu vaccine to all teachers, and the union "insists" that when a Covid-19 vaccine becomes available, all those who work in schools are "prioritised".
He also said the Government must send a strong message to families who travel abroad over Christmas that children will have to restrict their movements when they return in January in line with public health advice prior to going back to school.
TDs and senators also heard calls from the unions for the Government to undertake a further review of the requirement for high-risk teachers to attend schools during the pandemic. Mr Christie said he was "dismayed" that pregnant teachers and other vulnerable staff and students are being required to attend class.
Andy Pike of Fórsa, which represents special needs assistants, repeated concerns about a lack of clarity on the provision of personal protective equipment to school staff, specifically special needs assistants and bus escorts who cannot maintain social distance when assisting children with disabilities.