It’s crunch time for Ireland’s schools on Thursday.
Norma Foley is meeting with the major teaching unions to discuss the record number of Covid-19 cases.
The ASTI, which represents secondary school teachers, proposes a “staggered” return.
Minister Foley should explore making antigen tests available to all parents and their children as an addition to the present testing and tracing process.
Unease among members is “unacceptable danger in the context of the Omicron wave,” according to the ASTI.
According to The Irish Mirror, schools will return on January 6.
The public health guidance maintains that schools are safe and can reopen.
Minister Foley is now meeting school unions and advising school boards on public health.
INTO issues statement
INTO provided a member update this evening summarising the discussion with Minister Foley and officials.
This afternoon, INTO representatives met with Minister Foley and officials from the Department of Education and Public Health to discuss plans to reopen schools on Thursday. The meeting was summarised below.
Aid to public health
At today’s meeting, the INTO expressed worry that public health had abandoned primary schools recently, as the number of cases among 5-12 year olds increased from 50 to 1100 each day by mid-December. Today, the union secured promises that designated public health workers will return to the sector.
“Today, the Government finally agreed to provide medical quality face masks for teachers. The Department of Education must ensure that schools have plenty of these face masks.
“The primary sector remains in turmoil, with schools across the country having to get substitute cover when needed. In recent years, the Department of Education has taken steps to help schools stay open when they otherwise would not have been able to. The union was told today that more student instructors will be available for this task in the next two months.
“The Department of Education will have to rigorously monitor staffing levels everyday, and we must ensure accurate data on kid and staff case numbers are available.” The lack of an HSPC report in the last two weeks is concerning, though public health did offer updated graphic data today. They also agreed to holding frequent meetings with unions and management to discuss Omicron.
According to the INTO, school inspectors will be available to assist schools that cannot secure substitute cover in prioritising children with special needs and younger classes while other classes may need to return to remote learning.
“We strongly disagree with the public health review’s conclusion that contact tracing should not be resumed in primary schools at this time. We will keep pressing for this vital support.
“After great discussion, children of primary school age are now eligible for immunisation at the same level as adults.” Thousands of children have already gotten their first shot, and Public Health has acknowledged this union’s requests for an earlier rollout of booster vaccines for people in their twenties. Public health informed us today that they would ask NIAC to expedite all teacher booster shots.
Covid-19’s airborne nature took some time to properly comprehend, but the evidence is now undeniable. Our schools’ mitigation plans must include good air circulation. We are worried that elementary and special schools are not adequately funded to ensure adequate air circulation in all classrooms.
“Many schools report difficulty obtaining HEPA filters locally. The Department of Education must act immediately to assist these institutions.
It’s important to keep an eye on the whole space and ensure that every classroom has high quality air circulating within it.
In a world of ever-changing regulations and guidelines, parents deserve clear and uncomplicated signals. Ensuring that everyone in the school community is informed and fully understands the newest guidance helps keep our schools open.
“After nearly a month of discussions with authorities from Education and Public Health, the administration has agreed to launch a multi-lingual campaign tomorrow. This is wonderful, but it should have happened earlier and must continue throughout the school year.
“The CEC will meet tomorrow to discuss recent developments.”