Covid-19 cases must drop before schools can reopen, say unions 

Fórsa and the Irish National Teachers Organisation are due to meet with the Department of Education on Thursday to discuss the current situation with regards to special education
Covid-19 cases must drop before schools can reopen, say unions 

The number of daily cases of Covid-19 needs to drop ahead of the reopening of schools, unions representing teachers and special needs assistants (SNAs) say. 

The number of daily cases of Covid-19 needs to drop ahead of the reopening of schools, unions representing teachers and special needs assistants (SNAs) believe. 

Both Fórsa and the Irish National Teachers Organisation (INTO) are due to meet with the Department of Education on Thursday to discuss the current situation with regards to special education. 

This follows an impasse this week that saw plans to partially reopen schools today abandoned. Both unions say they will each continue to work with the Department of Education towards the reopening of schools and to ensure pupils with special educational needs return to in-school teaching and learning “as soon as possible”. 

“We have always followed the public health advice, we are not public health experts and we have said that time and time again,” an INTO spokesman said. 

The fact is that the situation has changed. We asked for an up-to-date public health assessment that looked at the current community transmission figures and provided some type of context for the decision around reopening schools.” 

“What we got is mixed messages. Dr Ronan Glynn in the webinar [for teachers and SNAs] on Monday suggested that the age-cohort of the majority of our members are most at risk, and at the same time public health advice from November and December last year was cited, when the figures were so different.”

Fórsa, which represents special needs assistants (SNAs), said it also believed improving confidence would be key when it comes to reopening plans. “The number of positive cases, we think, needs to be heading in a downward trajectory for people to feel it's safe to go back,” said Andy Pike, head of education at Fórsa. 

In the meantime, Fórsa will work with the department on measures that will help improve confidence, he said, adding that some provisions around childcare and at-risk members are helpful. Provisions around testing could also help to confidence in the system, he added.

In-person learning operated in October while the daily caseload was about 1,200, he added. "The cases are around double that at the minute." 

In a statement, Education Minister Norma Foley said: "The concerns and fears of teachers and SNAs have been well articulated, and I, along with my officials, have listened carefully at every stage of this process." 

She has "full confidence" in the public health advice underpinning the approach schools, she added. 

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