The Government has U-turned on its plans to return Leaving Cert students to classrooms on Monday, despite strict lockdown restrictions, and reopen special schools.
On Thursday, the Government confirmed that Leaving Cert students will not return to in-person learning next week, and will continue to learn remotely until at least February 1.
Special schools and special classes will also remain closed.
As of Monday, all children, including children with special needs, will switch to remote learning.
Norma Foley, the Minister for Education, said she made the announcement “with regret”.
“It remains my strong belief that this period of time is crucial for the mental wellbeing of all children with special needs.”
“I also felt it was the right thing to extend in-class teaching to our Leaving Certificate students who are approaching a crucial time in their exam year.”
However, the Minister says she has been “left with no alternative” but to pause the reopening to allow for further engagement, she added.
The announcement followed mounting opposition from teachers, principals, and students.
Unions and principals said they had not been properly consulted on the logistics of the plans.
On Thursday evening, the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) directed its members not to return to classrooms next week, but to instead teach students remotely.
The union said it did not have the “necessary assurances” that schools are safe for students and teachers to open next week, given the high daily case numbers, and the new UK variant.
📣INTO understands plans to reopen special schools next week have been cancelled.— INTO (Irish National Teachers' Organisation) (@INTOnews) January 7, 2021
We will update members as we learn more but welcome government heeding our concerns. We must all do what we can to respond to the current public health situation.
The Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) also had decided to direct members not to attend workplaces on Monday.
It has now called for urgent engagement with the Department of Education to plan a pathway towards the resumption of in-person teaching and learning.
The Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO) also expressed concerns over what it described as “rushed and reckless” plans to reopen special schools and classes. “Consultation and engagement are everything,” a spokesman said.
“Our members will seek to support their students from Monday with passion and determination.”
Fórsa, the union representing Special Needs Assistants and other school staff, had also warned that thousands of staff members will be unable to attend work on Monday due to child-care issues, and due to public health concerns.
News that special schools will not reopen was greeted with dismay by disability groups.
“Ireland continues to be an outlier in not providing essential in-school support for students with complex needs who have suffered greatly,” tweeted Adam Harris, chief executive of AsIAm.