Union cautions against keeping schools open at any cost and calls for fresh public health assessment before final decision on reopening.
“NPHET should conduct a fresh risk assessment on the reopening of schools, and clearly set out the criteria for determining when it would be unsafe for them to open” – Fórsa’s head of education, Andy Pike.
Fórsa trade union, which represents more than 12,000 staff in primary and secondary schools throughout the country, including special needs assistants (SNAs) and school secretaries, highlighted safety concerns over schools being compelled to reopen next Monday, in a meeting with the Minister for Education and Department of Education and Skills (DES) officials this afternoon.
The union stated that the decision to reopen schools must be based on up-to-date public health advice and a proper risk assessment during this worsening pandemic.
While a return to the long-term closures seen in March of last year is not preferable, there is a growing consensus in the education sector that it would be safer for schools to reopen once the rate of community transmission of Covid-19 begins to decline.
Fórsa’s head of education, Andy Pike said: “We believe a relatively brief period of school closures is required. However, Fórsa does not want to see a return to the long-term school closures experienced last year, which caused significant problems for both students and staff, alike.
We support public health advice, contingent on that advice being updated in line with changing circumstances. We will not support the notion of reopening schools at any cost.
“We support public health advice, contingent on that advice being updated in line with changing circumstances. We will not support the notion of reopening schools at any cost.
“In our meeting earlier today, we expressed that the DES should begin planning for staggered student attendance, to ensure the numbers on school premises at any one time can be reduced to enhance safety. This would require planning for the continuation of provision for priority groups, including students with special educational needs,” he said.
Fórsa also highlighted the necessity to maintain test and trace arrangements in schools.
Mr. Pike continued: “The DES confirmed that this facility will be maintained for schools staff, meaning close contacts will still be tested, even when it’s no longer available in the community. They also informed us that more School Inspectors will be assigned to assist the public health teams working with schools.
The DES confirmed that this facility will be maintained for schools staff, meaning close contacts will still be tested, even when it’s no longer available in the community.
“Fórsa also needs further engagement with HSE public health staff this week, to ascertain the current data on positive cases in schools and in the community.
“While schools staff must also be moved up the priority list to receive the Covid-19 vaccine, as we have already outlined,” he said.
In response to queries, the DES confirmed that funding will continue for cleaning, but the PPE budget cut remains in place, despite previous calls from Fórsa for further investment. However, there are provisions for schools to request and receive additional funding.
The DES will shortly launch a new communications campaign advising parents to minimise student close contacts before sending children back to school.
The Minister for Education will now reflect on all points raised by education stakeholders, including Fórsa, before a final decision is made by Cabinet later this week.
The union’s Education Divisional Executive Committee meets on Wednesday this week to finalise advice to members on the reopening of schools.