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INTO calls on government to delay reopening of schools until 11 January at earliest

Cabinet is meeting today to discuss the “rapid” and “exponential” growth in Covid-19 infections.

Image: Shutterstock/Anna Nahabed

THE IRISH NATIONAL Teachers’ Organisation (INTO) has called on the government to consider delaying the start of the next school term until 11 January at the earliest. 

INTO General Secretary John Boyle made the request in a letter to Minister for Education Norma Foley ahead of an unscheduled Cabinet meeting which is due to take place today.

Cabinet is meeting to discuss the “rapid” and “exponential” growth in Covid-19 infections in Ireland and the UK, Health Minister Stephen Donnelly has said. 

A further 1,546 cases of Covid-19 were confirmed in Ireland by health officials yesterday evening. 

In his letter, Boyle called for the start of the next school term to be delayed until Monday, 11 January “at the earliest”. 

“The INTO remains strongly committed to supporting our 42,000 members in safe workplaces, as they endeavour to teach and support the wellbeing of their pupils at school where children undoubtedly benefit greatly,” Boyle wrote. 

“However, it is now becoming very clear that the ability of schools to operate normally is likely to be seriously impaired due to the higher numbers of staff and students who will need to self-isolate and/or restrict movement in the weeks following Christmas,” he said. 

The INTO raised a number of concerns regarding the reopening of schools next month, including the number of positive cases identified as a result of mass-testing in schools this month, and the new strain of Covid-19, believed to be 70% more transmissible, which has been identified in Ireland. 

Boyle argued that an extension of school closures until the end of next week would give school boards of management time to put “enhanced measures” in place. 

These include additional supports for pupils who will not be in a position to return to school for a few weeks, the sourcing of substitute teachers, and supplying additional PPE and sanitising liquids, where stocks are running low. 

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“In our view, your government would also be better placed late next week to take account of emerging scientific evidence regarding the new variants of Covid-19 than you possibly could within the next seven days,” Boyle said. 

Speaking to RTÉ’s Morning Ireland today, Minister for Public Expenditure Michael McGrath said it is government’s intention that “schools would reopen on schedule next week”. 

On 17 December, Education Minister Norma Foley said she “appreciates the concern” people have around Covid-19 but that the level of virus transmission in schools remains low. 

Speaking on RTÉ’s News at One, Foley said that public health experts are best placed to make decisions about whether actions need to be taken in individual schools and that cases, at the time, were low in schools across the country.

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