Hundreds of teachers at ‘high risk’ from Covid-19 told to come to work

More than 600 school staff with illnesses including cancer ‘must attend workplace’

The Department of Education will facilitate more than 500 teaching staff working from home but hundreds more deemed ‘high risk’ are being told to go to work. File photograph:  Dave Thompson/PA Wire

The Department of Education will facilitate more than 500 teaching staff working from home but hundreds more deemed ‘high risk’ are being told to go to work. File photograph: Dave Thompson/PA Wire

 

Almost 650 teachers who sought Covid-19 risk assessments over fears they are highly vulnerable to the disease have been told they are not sick enough to stay at home.

More than 1,240 teaching staff had by Monday asked for an assessment carried out for the Department of Education by the outsourced privately-run occupational healthcare company Medmark.

Teachers categorised as “very high risk” for coronavirus are allowed to continue cocooning, while those classed as “high risk” have been told they “must attend the workplace, unless advised otherwise” after the risk assessment.

Those at “high risk” include staff with heart failure, chronic kidney disease, liver disease, cancer, weak immune systems and obesity.

The Department of Education has confirmed that 547 teachers who sought a risk assessment have been deemed “very high risk and will be facilitated from working from home.”

But another 645 – more than half of those assessed – have been classified as “high risk” and have been ordered back to their schools. Only 50 who applied were deemed to be neither high risk nor very high risk.

The Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) said the department’s advice contradicts that of the Health Service Executive (HSE), which states any employee “should work from home if you are at high risk from coronavirus”.

Ann Piggott, president of the ASTI, said a “considerably high number” of those teachers ordered back to work after taking a risk assessment “feel their lives are at serious risk, and they are now being sent into a classroom”.

“It is very concerning,” she said.

“The HSE advice tells them they should be working from home, and they should maintain social distancing.

“We are learning from schools over the last few days that classrooms are crowded, and in some classrooms there is no effort made to maintain even a one-metre distance between students.

“We can’t put teachers back to work if they are at risk.”

No consultations

Teachers contacting the ASTI about their worries said there had been no direct consultations, either online or by telephone, and that they were getting a “very quick email back placing them in a category without any discussion whatsoever”.

In some cases letters from consultants do not appear to have been considered, said Ms Piggott.

“Every single case needs to be individually reviewed and taken seriously,” she added.

“Even perfectly healthy teachers are full of fear and trepidation as they make their way back to the classroom, as are parents and their children.

“So, to be a teacher with several illnesses at the one time, where you know you are not going to be safe, where Ministers and health officials have said there will be outbreaks in schools, well of course they are going to be terribly worried about their situation.”