Secondary school students and primary and post-primary teachers will be required to wear face coverings in class when a physical distance of 2m cannot be maintained, according to new Department of Education guidance.
On Friday, Minister for Education Norma Foley issued an update on the roadmap for reopening schools at the end of the summer.
The updated guidelines state that teachers and second-level students should wear face coverings, similar to those worn in shops or on public transport, when a physical distance of 2m cannot be maintained.
These face coverings worn should be reusable and washed once daily, the guidance adds. All staff and students using the post-primary school transport service will be required to wear face coverings on the bus, the guidance states.
All special needs assistants (SNAs) will be required to wear face coverings or, in certain situations, clear visors in the classroom, and other staff such as bus escorts who have close contact with students will be required to wear face coverings.
John Boyle, general secretary of the Irish National Teachers' Organisation (INTO) has welcomed the updated guidelines. "Schools will have the option of ordering face coverings centrally on the newly established Government procurement portal."
Andy Pike, head of health at Fórsa trade union, welcomed proactive attitude to the use of face masks and visors. "This is a significant improvement on the earlier Government response, which sought to avoid the use of PPE [personal protective equipment] in schools," he said.
“Fórsa sought and received confirmation that schools will be able to draw down and purchase adequate stocks of N75 face masks, which protect against the contraction of Covid-19,” he said.
Martin Marjoram, president of the Teachers' Union of Ireland (TUI), said it was "vital" that required resources be provided to schools as they prepared to reopen.
Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) general secretary Kieran Christie said: "Keeping schools open must be the priority, and this means minimising the risk of transmission within classrooms and other learning environments."
Meanwhile, the Teaching Council said it was introducing a "range of interventions" to increase the supply of registered teachers available to fill vacancies, including supervision and substitution roles, to support the reopening of schools for the upcoming school year.
The council said there were 106,000 qualified teachers registered with the Teaching Council, and an estimated 6,000 of those are not fully deployed in schools and may be available for substitution and supervision.
The council said it would be contacting this potential grouping directly to encourage their participation in supporting the return to school.