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Return to school: Two-thirds of principals say they have teachers with underlying health issues

Second-level schools should delay reopening if they can’t implement social distancing, according to the TUI.

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Updated Aug 25th 2020, 11:53 AM

THE TEACHERS’ UNION of Ireland (TUI) has said a second-level school should delay opening if it cannot do so in a manner that ensures social distancing. 

As part of the government’s roadmap to reopen schools, a number of plans were laid out to mark children’s return to school; these include the requirement to wear face coverings on the bus to school, and being grouped into class bubbles and pods. 

Education Minister Norma Foley has acknowledged that social distancing isn’t a “prerequisite” for younger children returning to school, but older children will be expected to adhere to at least 1 metre of distance between each other.

It comes as the first schools across the country begin the first staggered re-opening for the first time since mid-March. 

The TUI has said today that each school must “adhere to this key protection” and that there must be “no departure” from it. 

The comments come following a survey of principals and deputy principals across 124 schools.

The survey revealed that 66% of respondents are aware of teachers in their schools with underlying health issues that puts them in the very high-risk category. An even larger number (73%) were aware of teachers who live with family members who have underlying health issues.

Furthermore, 47% of schools were reported to have encountered difficulties in employing builders or other contractors to make required changes to school layouts. 

Speaking this morning, TUI general secretary Michael Gillespie said that the reopening of schools was an “unprecedented challenge” but that there was no other option except to ensure that social distancing is implemented. 

Should a school not be in a position to open as scheduled in a manner consistent with the physical distancing requirements set out by the public health authorities, a delay in opening is the only acceptable option. There can be no departure from the specified physical distancing measures in schools. Every school must adhere to this key protection.

The Irish National Teachers Organisation (INTO), meanwhile, has said that it is “grossly unfair” to expect teachers who are at high risk and have underlying health conditions to return to school. 

It wants the government to intervene so members can appeal decisions from the occupational health service that those with such conditions should return to school.

“As our members return to the front lines this week, urgent and swift action from government is now required to review existing public health guidance and ensure it remains fit for purpose,” the INTO said.

The union said it also written to the Taoiseach seeking clarity on expert public health guidance relating to primary and special schools. It wants a review of the guidance around face masks in schools given updated information from the World Health Organisation for children aged six and over in the last few days.

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Last night, the HSE and the Department of Health released advice to parents about when children should be kept home from school and when they can attend. 

With reporting from Sean Murray

About the author:

Rónán Duffy

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