Union calls on Department to reconsider plans to resume in-school special education

The INTO believes that teachers’ “grave safety concerns” were not adequately addressed by today’s public health webinar and by Government
Union calls on Department to reconsider plans to resume in-school special education

File picture: Larry Cummins

The Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO) has called on the Department of Education to reconsider plans to resume in-school special education this week.

This follows an emergency meeting of the union’s Central Executive Committee (CEC) this Monday evening.

The group believes that teachers’ “grave safety concerns” were not adequately addressed by today’s public health webinar and by Government.

In a statement, the union said it will continue to engage with the department and public health authorities in an effort to work towards a phased reopening.

“However, up-to-date, reliable information and supports are essential if this effort is to succeed.” 

The INTO CEC will meet again on Tuesday to assess the situation again.

INTO President Mary Magner said: “We have heard the concerns of teachers in recent days and, while teachers across the country are keen to get back to the classroom, they are scared.

“Teachers are committed to supporting their vulnerable pupils but the safety of staff is vital.” 

'Poor and untimely communication'

INTO General Secretary John Boyle said that Monday’s webinar did not address teachers’ concerns.

“The Government must take responsibility for poor and untimely communication and mixed messages over the past two weeks.

“The failure of Minister Foley and Minister Madigan to engage in proper consultation in the last two weeks has been very damaging and it has hampered the planning for the safe reopening of schools.

"We have made progress on some of our key concerns in recent days, but there is more work to be done to ensure the safety of staff, pupils, and their families, including a higher prioritisation of education staff for vaccination.

“We will continue to be constructive and work with our colleagues in Fórsa and with the Department of Education towards the safe, orderly reopening of schools.” 

Separately, the education executive of Fórsa, the union that represents SNAs is also due to meet on Tuesday afternoon to discuss the union’s outstanding concerns.

That’s according to Andy Pike, head of education at Fórsa.

“We will review what progress has been made, and the general situation and take a decision on what to tell our members,” he said.

Asked about the potential reopening of schools for special needs pupils at Monday's Covid-19 briefing, deputy chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn said there are no zero-risk environments when it comes to Covid-19 and that it was a matter of balancing risks and benefits.

“Once you leave your house, once you come in contact with people there’s a risk involved,” he said. “That’s why we’re keen that as many as possible would stay at home.

“But we have to balance risks and benefits. It’s very clear the closure of schools should be a last resort and the protection of education should be a key priority.” 

Asked whether he would prefer special needs schools to remain closed at this time, Dr Holohan agreed with Dr Glynn that it was a matter of balancing risks.

“These levels of community transmission that we’re still experiencing, albeit improvement from where we were at the early part of this month at the turn of the year, it’s still a very high level of infection in the community, it still represents a very substantial level of avoidable risk, as far as we can drive down these levels of infection to much lower levels.

“That’s why we all need to follow basic public health advice and to stay at home as much as we can.”

- Additional reporting from PA

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