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Teaching unions query whether schools should remain open if Ireland moves to Level 5

Under Level 5 restrictions, schools would remain open but most other businesses would be closed

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TEACHING UNIONS ARE seeking clarification on whether it is safe for schools to stay open if the country goes into Level 5 restrictions. 

The second-level and further education Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) has said it is “seeking urgent engagement” with the Department of Education and Skills and the government on any national move a higher level of Covid-19 restrictions.  

The Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) has similarly called for a “comprehensive review of the medical and related guidance” that allows for second-level schools to remain open if Ireland moves to Level 5.

Last night, the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) recommended that the government implement Level 5 of its Covid-19 roadmap.

The leaders of the three coalition parties are set to meet with Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan today about the advice, with the ultimate decision on whether to move to the highest level of lockdown to be taken by Cabinet.  

Under Level 5 restrictions, schools would remain open but most other businesses would be closed. The highest level of restrictions is essentially return to the restrictions from April and May, but with schools, creches and play groups open. 

In a statement this morning, TUI General Secretary Michael Gillespie said that members are “extremely worried by current events”. 

“We have many members with serious underlying health issues and also many members who share a household with people with underlying health issues,” he said.

We require urgent engagement in relation to what increased protections will apply to teachers in an escalation to Level 4 restrictions. We have already sought detailed clarification on the why it would be safe for schools to remain open at Level 5 if the rest of society is effectively locked down.

The ASTI President Ann Piggott has also said that its members are “concerned by the implications” of Level 5. 

“We are writing to the Minister for Education and Skills this morning to request that she initiate a review immediately. We will also be requesting that the second-level stakeholders meet to discuss all associated issues,” Piggott said. 

“The health, safety and welfare of all members of our school communities is of paramount importance”

The Irish National Teachers’ Association (INTO) said it has written to Minister for Education Norma Foley demanding an urgent meeting with the education stakeholders as they have received no clarification on what protective measures would apply in primary and special schools at the different levels.

“In our view it is inconceivable that the same protections – hand sanitising, hand washing, enhanced cleaning, ventilation, pods and bubbles – would be deemed to be sufficient at all of these four levels,” INTO General Secretary John Boyle said. 

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“Crucially we now also need clarity on the plans for primary and special schools in areas where level five would apply. In our view, it is incomprehensible that our schools, which have the largest class sizes in Europe, would remain fully open at a time where infection levels were so high in the community that no indoor gatherings or events were permissible.”

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Rónán Duffy

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