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Some schools ‘failing to implement Covid-19 social distancing’

The head of the Teachers’ Union of Ireland said members ‘will not accept any departure from public health guidance’.

Image: PA

SOME SCHOOLS HAVE failed to implement Covid-19 social distancing measures ahead of pupils returning to the classrooms this week, an Oireachtas committee has heard.

Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) general secretary Michael Gillespie said that the union had received reports of some schools not satisfying public health requirements.

Gillespie told the Special Committee on Covid-19 Response that its teachers “will not accept any departure from the public health guidance, including the absolute necessity to maintain a physical distance of no less than one metre, preferably two metres, in our schools.

“Unfortunately, we have had reports in recent days of schools that have not yet put the necessary measures in place. We reiterate again that the TUI will not permit non-compliance on this key issue.”

Gillespie said the entire school community must observe and respect public health advice and “do everything possible to minimise the spread of Covid-19”.

He added that a policy was needed to prevent students from wearing soft face coverings that may have slogans or logos that may be offensive in a school community.

Thousands of children returned to school this week for the first time since the pandemic led to schools shutting their doors in March.

Representatives of the teachers’ unions appeared before the special committee today to discuss the preparations made ahead of the reopening and how they were coping with new measures.

The committee was established to consider and take evidence on the State’s response to the pandemic.

The Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (Into) president Mary Magner said teachers were angry that their safety and that of their pupils was being “compromised” due to overcrowding in classrooms.

She told the committee it was “practically impossible” for the primary sector to adhere to public health measures due to the issue and called on the Government to reduce class sizes immediately.

“This pandemic has certainly highlighted, and members are quite angry in relation to, the large classes we have to deal with,” she said.

“It was practically impossible to realise social distancing in some schools when there wasn’t adequate space. There is an immediate call to reduce class sizes in line with European counterparts.

“Our members are rightly angry and anxious that their health and wellbeing and their students’ health and wellbeing and safety is compromised by the larger class sizes in overcrowded classrooms in the country.”

Into general secretary John Boyle said classrooms had been reconfigured and stripped of extraneous furniture, new sanitation stations had been installed, one-way systems mapped and signage placed everywhere.

But he said that a review needed to be undertaken by the end of September to how schools were coping.

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“Just because schools are open, does not mean that there is nothing further to be done,” he said.

“It is imperative that a review be undertaken, by the end of September, to assess the reopening of schools and identify improvements which may be necessary.”

He said this review must be cross-governmental and include input from HSA, HSE, the Inspectorate and stakeholders.

“Unless we are vigilant and in a position to adapt quickly to changing circumstances, schools may risk a second period of enforced closure,” he said.

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