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Lack of safety guidance on schools putting staff and students 'at risk', warns trade union

Fórsa was critical of the Department of Education in a submission to the Dáil’s Covid-19 committee.

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THE LACK OF Covid-19 safety guidance for schools could put students and staff at risk, trade union Fórsa has warned. 

The union, in a written submission to the Dáil’s Covid-19 committee, warns that a dearth of guidance need to be remedied. 

A summer programme for students with special needs and from disadvantaged schools is set to start next month

Fórsa said that the Department of Education and Skills was the only large department that had not issued safety advice for the re-opening of services. 

“Without this guidance schools do not know how many students can attend, what PPE such as masks will be required, and what new hygiene regime will required,” the union said. 

The Department of Education and Skills programme, which requires the support of teachers and SNAs, would be undermined if schools and staff didn’t feel safe opting in, the union warned.

The submission said:

Thus far the focus of NPHET advice has been to stress the need for the young to protect the vulnerable. In terms of the school community, the risks of clusters of Covid-19 developing schools and spreading into the local community is real and needs to be managed rather than be ignored or downplayed.

Andy Pike, the union’s head of education, said that many staff are also parents. “They will be affected by reduced school attendance patterns to the extent that a full return to the workplace will not be possible if they themselves have childcare responsibilities,” he said. 

“Staff will be faced with additional cost pressures if they need to purchase additional childcare in the same manner as this will affect all parents. While staff can work remotely on days when their own children cannot attend school, this activity will be difficult to co-ordinate,” he added. 

Questions have been asked about what exactly schools will look like come September. Earlier this month, Minister for Education Joe McHugh said that with the two-metre social distancing rule in force, students might have to engage in a combination of in-school teaching and learning from home. 

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However, he also said that if guidance was reduced to one metre, primary school pupils would still only attend school for two-and-a-half days per week. 

The Department of Education and Skills has been contacted to ask for comment. 

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