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Students set to return to special classes in secondary schools on Monday week after deal reached

The Teachers’ Union of Ireland has said its members will facilitate the reopening of special classes from 22 February.

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Updated Feb 10th 2021, 10:50 PM

THE TEACHERS’ UNION of Ireland has said its members will facilitate the reopening of special classes in post-primary schools from Monday 22 February.

An agreement has been reached between TUI, Fórsa and the Department of Education.

The union also said it will facilitate the return of Leaving Certificate students from some point in the same week, subject to public health advice.  

It comes after Taoiseach Micheál Martin told a Fianna Fáil parliamentary party meeting this evening that Covid variants are making it harder to ease restrictions but that the priority is schools returning and housing construction recommencing. 

It is anticipated that Level 5 restrictions will not be lifted on 5 March with the exception of a phased return to schools and the recommencement of housing construction but that restrictions will be eased slowly, with additional easing unlikely to take place until May. 

Speaking this evening, TUI President Martin Marjoram said: “While emergency remote teaching and learning continues, the TUI has engaged intensively and positively with all education stakeholders to work towards the safe re-opening of schools for priority groups in line with public health advice and as early as is possible.   

“In this regard, the Union’s Executive Committee this evening decided that its members would facilitate the re-opening of special classes in Post-Primary schools from Monday, 22nd February given that a number of concerns expressed by the Union have been addressed. 

“In taking this decision, the Union acknowledges the vital importance of face-to-face provision for this cohort of students and took note of the range of additional supports and measures that have been agreed to protect students and staff.

“These measures, which had been sought by TUI, include full contact tracing and fast-track testing, provision of high grade PPE for special education teachers and arrangements for staff in high risk health categories and pregnant teachers to continue to provide remote learning.   

“Clearly, all risk mitigation measures and safeguards will need to be strictly adhered to at school level. At national level, all measures must be kept under ongoing review, not least to take account of the emerging new variants of Covid-19. The health and safety of students, staff and their families cannot be compromised.”

In a statement, the Department of Education said students attending these classes will return for in-person teaching and learning from Monday 22 February, the same day on which primary school special classes will return. 

“It remains a priority for the Department to agree a shared pathway to in-school learning for children with special educational needs in mainstream classes in mainstream schools as soon as possible.

“Recognising that remote learning is particularly challenging for some students with complex needs, the Department of Education has also put in place a supplementary programme to support the education and/or care needs of students with complex needs at post-primary level.

“Intensive engagement is continuing with education stakeholders, towards a full return of all students to in-person teaching and learning in primary and post primary schools as soon as possible and when it is safe to do so, the Department said. 

Minister for Education Norma Foley said: “I am pleased that students in special classes at post-primary level will now return to in-person teaching and learning on the same day as primary school students in special classes. 

“These special classes support some of our most vulnerable students. The return to in-person teaching and learning is vital to these students and I want to thank everyone who has engaged in this process to reach a solution which is aimed at meeting their needs.

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“The supplementary programme will also provide a real benefit for students over the coming weeks as they adjust to returning to in-person teaching and learning and I urge everyone to make full use of this.

“In our ongoing engagement with education partners, we continue to seek a way forward to support the return of in-person teaching and learning for children with special educational needs in mainstream settings.

“The Government is committed to the full and safe reopening of schools for all students as soon as possible, and will continue to work with all stakeholders, in line with public health advice, to achieve this,” said Foley. 

Meanwhile, at a Fine Gael parliamentary party meeting this evening a motion by TDs Eoghan Murphy and Jennifer Carroll MacNeill on sustaining education during the Covid crisis was passed. The motion requested a review into consistency of remote learning while schools are closed.

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