Q&A: When are schools set to fully reopen?
Plan involves full reopening of primary and secondary schools prior to Easter holidays
Unions and Government sources say they are aiming for a phased reopening of all primary and secondary schools between now and the end of March. Photograph: iStock
Students with special needs are finally due to return to class. What will happen, exactly?
Special education is due to partially reopen to thousands of children from February 11th following agreement with school staff unions.
The revised plan will see special schools open on Thursday of next week with 50 per cent student attendance.
Special classes in mainstream primary schools are due to reopen fully to all pupils from February 22nd.
However, the plan does not provide in-school teaching for thousands of children with additional needs in mainstream primary classes.
When are mainstream primary classes due to reopen?
Sources involved in discussions say they believe primary schools will be in a position to reopen from early March, possibly Monday, March 1st.
The question of whether all classes will resume or whether there will be a phased return of year groups is still under discussion and will depend on the public health situation.
School staff unions are understood to be open to a full reopening if virus transmission rates are low. “If case numbers are low, we can be more ambitious with reopening,” says one source involved in school reopening talks.
“But if they are going down more slowly, it may be a case of reopening with the youngest year groups first, such as junior and senior infants.”
When will secondary schools reopen?
Government sources and unions are hopeful that secondary schools will reopen on a phased basis in mid to late March.
It is likely exam year groups - such as Leaving Certs - will be prioritised along with students with additional needs, followed by the remainder of secondary students.
However, a full reopening of secondary schools in one go may also be on the cards, if virus transmission rates remain low.
This is due to logistical hurdles facing schools in trying to organise timetables for both in-person and remote teaching.
The aim is to reopen schools to all pupils ahead of the Easter holidays.
Schools are due to close for these holidays from Friday March 26th and reopen on April 12th.
However, some sources say the holiday period could be shortened to facilitate the return to school.
One source said schools, for example, could finish up on March 31st or later under measures in Department of Education circulars which state that holidays can be adjusted in light of “unforeseen circumstances”.
What new safety measures will be in place in schools when they reopen?
School staff unions at primary level say they have secured enhanced safety measures in talks with the Department of Education.
The include revised rules for pregnant, medically-vulnerable and teachers/Special Needs Assistants (SNAs) aged over 60. These staff groups will not be required to work in classrooms during the phased reopening, as they can work remotely with students who are not attending school.
In the area of childcare, staff will be able to access subsidies should they need to source provision. Staff can also avail of parental leave or unpaid leave if they are unable to secure appropriate childcare before the full reopening of schools.
There will also be remote provision to students whose parents do not want them to attend school, and new school risk assessments.