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Teachers and secondary school students to wear face coverings on return to school, says government

The Department of Education confirmed the latest advice in a statement this evening.

Image: Shutterstock/Pikul Noorod

TEACHERS AND SECONDARY school students are being advised to wear masks when school returns at the end of this month.

In a statement today, the Department of Education said that the public health guidance for the re-opening of schools has been updated to “reflect the latest research and expertise”. 

The department said this recommendation of face coverings – similar to those worn in shops or on public transport – applies when a physical distance of two metres cannot be maintained.

The new guidance states that students at post-primary level, apart from specific exemptions, will be required to wear a face covering in the classroom.

All staff and students using the post-primary school transport service will have to wear a mask on the bus. 

Staff – including teachers at primary and secondary level – who cannot maintain a two-metre distance from students or other staff will be required to wear a face covering, as will all special needs assistants (SNAs).

Unions have largely welcomed the move.

Earlier this week, the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO) wrote to the minister requesting clarity on the wearing of face coverings in schools.

Its general secretary John Boyle said this evening: “We welcome today’s announcement from the Department of Education that teachers who are unable to maintain two metres social distancing in their classrooms are advised to wear face masks or visors as appropriate. Schools will have the option of ordering face coverings centrally on the newly established government procurement portal.”

The Teachers Union of Ireland (TUI) president Martin Marjoram said: “It is now vital that the required resources are provided to schools to ensure that this crucial protective measure is in place when schools re-open.  

The health and safety of students, staff, their families and communities must remain the key concern for all and the TUI, therefore, will continue to address any arising issues with the Department ahead of the re-opening of schools… Vigilance will be required by everybody involved on an ongoing basis so that everything possible is done to ensure the health and safety of all in the school and in the broader community.

Fórsa – which represents SNAs, school secretaries and caretakers – said this was a welcome move. 

The unin’s head of health Andy Pike said: “This is a significant improvement on the earlier Government response, which sought to avoid the use of PPE in schools. Fórsa sought and received confirmation that schools will be able to draw down and purchase adequate stocks of N75 face masks, which protect against the contraction of Covid-19.”

The latest advice comes a week after the government announced the roadmap to re-opening schools in Ireland.

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Minister for Education Norma Foley said that a “considerable portion” of the €375 million in funding has been paid to schools. 

“For example, €102 million in funding has already issued to primary and post-primary schools to carry out minor works to create more space in the classroom or install additional handwashing stations,” she said.

“Funding has already been made available for schools to hire aides to help reconfigure classrooms and install hand sanitising stations. Guidance has also been circulated to schools detailing how they can best access PPE and hand sanitiser supplies.”

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Sean Murray

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