Union says schools should not re-open after mid-term break until health and safety measures improve
Fórsa trade union, which represents more than 15,000 non-teaching staff in the education sector, has told the Department of Education and Skills (DES) and the HSE that schools should remain closed after next week’s mid-term break. The union said significant improvements in health and safety provision need to take place before schools could re-open while the country continued to observe ‘Level 5’ Covid restrictions, which will apply from midnight tomorrow (Wednesday).
The union’s head of education Andy Pike said the current provisions are insufficient: “If schools are to stay open under Level 5, the Government must maintain confidence, and keep its side of the bargain by doing everything possible to keep staff safe. As it stands, the Government’s approach is to do the bare minimum and downplay the extent of the risks to staff and students,” he said.
Mr Pike said a meeting with the DES this morning (Tuesday) revealed that current arrangements have not been sufficient to keep pace with the rise in cases. Some schools have been left to fend for themselves without HSE intervention resulting in decisions to send home year groups or close schools completely.
It’s clear that many schools are not being informed of cases which means the true number of Covid cases in schools is unknown and likely to be significantly higher than the 246 additional cases reported by the department yesterday.
“We have close to 300 cases confirmed in our schools system. It’s clear, however, that many schools are not being informed of cases, which means the true number of Covid cases in schools is unknown, and likely to be significantly higher than the 246 additional cases reported by the department yesterday.
“We know that it has taken enormous efforts to keep our schools open at this time, and Fórsa commends the staff, pupils and parents of every school community for keeping the doors open and maintaining continuity for pupils at an especially difficult time.
“But we need more measures to be in place if this effort is to be made sustainable, and we are calling for realistic measures to be put in place,” he said.
Mr Pike said a single viable test-and-trace system for schools was urgently required, with clear protocols defining close contacts and testing criteria, consistent with practice in the wider community. Mr Pike said: “There should be more testing in schools than in community settings not less. This should encompass testing arranged by the HSE and GPs.”
If schools are to stay open under Level 5, the Government must maintain confidence, and keep its side of the bargain by doing everything possible to keep staff safe.
The union is also calling for improved communication with school staff to ensure the criteria for testing is transparent and understood, in addition to significant improvements in adherence to the Government’s Return to Work protocol.
Mr Pike said: “We need better provision of PPE to staff, for example SNAs, who cannot practice social distancing, and an end to the practice of rationing masks for use solely when an SNA is providing personal care. Revised advice on the use of face visors is also needed, as we know now that these offer little protection on their own.”
Fórsa is also seeking a review of the status of staff in the classroom with high risk conditions, and the replacement of grant paid staff (school secretaries and caretakers) who are absent due to Covid issues. Fórsa said it is also seeking the provision of sick pay or other paid leave for secretaries and caretakers who, on medical advice, cannot attend work in a school. The union is also calling for the free provision of the current flu vaccine to all schools staff.