Teachers’ unions, Foley and officials to meet before schools reopen

INTO calls for faster response times to Covid outbreaks in schools during the new term

Teachers unions are seeking “quicker response times and interventions” if multiple cases arise in schools after the planned reopening of primary and secondary schools next week.

Primary and secondary schools are due to reopen from Thursday, January 6th after the Christmas break.

A meeting between the Department of Education, unions and management bodies is scheduled for Tuesday to discuss public health measures in schools in advance of the reopening.

In a post on Twitter on Friday, Minister for Education Norma Foley said infection prevention and control measures in schools are "kept under constant review" and the Department had "continued to engage with public health officials over the Christmas period".

She said she would attend the meeting next Tuesday afternoon with unions, management bodies and Department officials in advance of schools reopening.

John Boyle, general secretary of the Irish National Teachers' Organisation (INTO) told The Irish Times the INTO wanted faster response times in the event of Covid outbreaks in schools during the new term.

“As Covid-19 is rampant in communities, we want an assurance that the Government will do more to ensure that infection levels within primary schools are being closely monitored and taken seriously moving forward and that school principals can rely on public health support when they most need it,” he said.

INTO would “simply not accept any less public health protection for our members, who are close contacts of confirmed cases and who are among the group of workers caring for the largest cohort of unvaccinated individuals,” he said.

Clarity would be sought on the progress of the children’s vaccination programme and a fast tracking of the booster programme for those aged 20-29 who work in crowded settings like schools at the forthcoming meeting with the Department of Education, he said.

The INTO reiterated its call for the Government to set up a public awareness campaign before schools reopen, to ensure parents and pupils are aware of the symptoms of Covid-19 and of the “absolute necessity for full compliance with infection prevention and control measures,” Mr Boyle said.

He added that it may be necessary for third and fourth year student teachers to be made available throughout the coming weeks to act in the place of teachers who are unable to attend their schools due to being close contacts or having contracted Covid-19.

Martin Marjoram, president of the Teachers Union of Ireland (TUI) said the "longstanding teacher supply crisis arising from pay inequality continues to cause enormous challenges in the context of the pandemic".

He said the TUI was hoping to receive the latest public health advice regarding schools from the department at the meeting on Tuesday.

A spokesperson for the Department of Education said “a range of measures are in place in schools to mitigate Covid-19” and the reopening would go ahead on 6th January as planned.

There would be no change to the requirements for people who work in schools and who are identified as close contacts to self-isolate, the spokesperson said.

Meanwhile, in a post on Twitter, Minister for Education Norma Foley said infection prevention and

Separately, in an interview on RTÉ's News at One, Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said schools would reopen as planned, adding they were a controlled environment.

“All of the information that I’ve been given, all of the advice I have, says that whilst of course you can get infection within the schools, they are substantially safer for example than children being outside of schools,” the Minister said.

He said evidence has shown “consistently that the level of infection within the schools is substantially lower than in the community”.

He said he was not aware of any European country that is considering closing schools at present.