Covid-19: Teachers to seek assurances that schools are safe to reopen

Teachers unions say members are deeply concerned over surge in coronavirus cases

Coronavirus sign on the gates of a school in Reading, England. Photograph: Steve Parsons/PA Wire

Coronavirus sign on the gates of a school in Reading, England. Photograph: Steve Parsons/PA Wire

 

Teachers will seek reassurances from Government and public health officials this week that it is safe for schools to reopen as planned on January 11th, union representatives have said.

Teachers union officials say their members are deeply concerned about the record numbers of Covid-19 infections being recorded and the transmission of the new variant of the virus in the community.

The Irish National Teachers’ Organisation, the Association of Secondary Teachers in Ireland, and the Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) want the National Public Health Emergency Team to examine school safety measures for Covid-19 given that scientists say this new variant is more infectious.

The Government and the Department of Education have said they “fully intend” to reopen schools as planned from January 11th, after last week extending the Christmas school holidays by three days to allow for people’s contacts to be minimised before children return.

The department said it and public health officials believe that “schools remain safe places of learning for all members of school communities”. Meetings are planned with the unions this week to discuss the reopening of schools as the number of new Covid-19 cases surges in the third wave of the disease here.

Michael Gillespie, general secretary of the TUI, said teachers were “very, very concerned” about schools reopening given the “unprecedented increase in numbers” in relation to Covid-19 cases, and were “very interested” to see how the new variant is being assessed.

“Schools did very, very well in the first term. We stayed ahead of the curve. We didn’t amplify the numbers, but if there was a break-out in a community, the numbers were reflected in schools, so obviously these numbers will be reflected in schools,” he said.

Contact tracing

Contact tracing worked effectively to reduce the spread of the virus during the second wave in October, but teachers were now concerned about the effect of the new approach of not referring close contacts of positive cases for testing, Mr Gillespie added.

“If they tell us that schools are safe and that contact tracing is working properly, then obviously that will help give us confidence in the system.”

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said on Sunday it was the Government’s “firm intention” to reopen schools as planned but that further assessments would be considered closer to the reopening.

“We don’t have any advice from public health authorities that we should close schools,” he told RTÉ’s This Week radio programme.

Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan said he believed the Level 5 restrictions in place since Christmas and the Government’s advice that people should stay at home will reduce the rate of infection to allow schools to reopen on January 11th.

“It is something we will have to review and look at but the evidence, and I think our public health advice, is that we should be able to do it,” he told Newstalk’s On The Record programme.

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