Teachers’ union calls for return of Covid-19 testing and tracing in schools

INTO wants pilot antigen testing scheme started in schools and review of face covering policy

Vicky Barron, the principal of CBS Primary School in Wexford Town, said there were “serious flaws” in HSE guidance for schools and the decision not to contact trace for cases in classes. Photograph: Maura Hickey

Vicky Barron, the principal of CBS Primary School in Wexford Town, said there were “serious flaws” in HSE guidance for schools and the decision not to contact trace for cases in classes. Photograph: Maura Hickey

 

One of the country’s teacher unions has called for the immediate reintroduction of Covid-19 testing and contact tracing in primary schools due to the rising number of infections.

The Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO) also wants a pilot scheme for antigen testing to begin in schools and an urgent review on restricting the use of face coverings to children aged 13 and over.

The call came after a primary school in Co Wexford said it was sending children home until after the midterm break after 34 students tested positive for the virus.

Vicky Barron, the principal of CBS Primary School in Wexford Town, said there were “serious flaws” in HSE guidance for schools and the decision not to contact trace for cases in classes.

In a message on Sunday evening, Ms Barron told parents of pupils that the board of management had decided to send children home to be taught remotely this week because of the volume of cases in the school.

A positive case of Covid-19 was detected in one class on October 8th and a number of other cases were notified over the following days.

The HSE deemed all children in the class to be close contacts and sent them for testing on October 12th but their siblings were told to continue attending school.

The number of cases has since risen to 34 including a number of siblings of the class members.

The INTO questioned the premature cessation of public health risk assessments and the testing and contact tracing in primary schools from September 27th.

“This change in policy last month, which was challenged by this union, was informed by a view at the time that further relaxation of public-health measures was on the cards,” it said.

This was “now far from clear” with the State’s deputy chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn and other leading public health experts “openly raising alarm in recent days,” the INTO said.

It wants current infection and prevent control measures, including the use of pods and bubbles and the wearing of face masks by staff remaining in place beyond October 31st.

The union said that a pilot scheme for antigen testing in schools was recommended by an expert review group and should be commenced immediate.

“In light of the worrying public-health indicators, we must use every tool at our disposal to protect our school communities,” the union said.

The HSE has repeatedly said primary schools remain a low-risk setting for the transmission of Covid-19 and that asymptomatic children do not contribute to the spread of the virus.

While the policy of not testing and contact tracing close contacts of cases has been in place since last month, the HSE carries out a public health risk assessment on individual classes and, if merited, will direct a classroom of students to be sent for testing.

The HSE continues to direct parents to keep children displaying symptoms home from school.

The INTO urged the Government to start a public awareness campaign to ensure that those with Covid-19 symptoms do not attend school.

“There is anecdotal evidence from members on the ground that symptomatic children continue to attend schools,” the union said.

Asked if it would seek the reopening of CBS primary school on the basis that public health advice was not followed in the decision to close the school for remote teaching, the Department of Education said that it did not comment on individual cases.

The department said if there were outbreaks of concern in schools, public health teams would continue to provide support and testing will remain available should it be required.

It advises any students with symptoms not to attend school.