Fórsa attended a meeting with Government ministers and representatives of the education department and school management bodies this morning (14th January). The Irish National Teachers’ Organisation also attended.
The Government position is that they would like to move towards a partial reopening of special schools and special classes in the primary sector from 21st January. This would be a partial return to services at 50% capacity, in order to reduce the number of people on site.
It is recognised that this may not be possible for some schools, which may need more time to put arrangements in place.
Fórsa’s said the union was happy to continue to negotiate on a range of safety improvements that need to be agreed before a partial re-opening can take place, and that we will issue advice to members by the middle of next week.
This advice will set out exactly what has been achieved and what steps have been agreed in advance of any return to in-person school support.
This is an ongoing negotiation, which will not be finished until early next week.
We have not yet committed to any specific date for the re-opening. We note the Government’s preference for 21st January, but we believe 25th January may prove to be a more realistic date. Any return to a limited in-person service is contingent on further improvements and protections being agreed as was made clear in our statement to RTÉ News at lunchtime today (14th January).
What is proposed is a limited, phased return to service provision, not the full resumption of services announced by the Government last week.
To date we have secured:
· Overdue improvements in the arrangements for PPE for SNAs.
· A commitment that the Deputy Chief Medical Officer will lead the public health effort and will be communicating directly with SEN staff.
· Guidance on bus transport is being reviewed.
· The DES has now written to the Department of Health requesting SEN staff be prioritised for the Covid vaccine.
· Schools will now be required to check and update their risk assessments prior to any partial reopening.
We still have further work to do to ensure that staff in the high risk category are not required to go back into the classroom. And, while the DES now acknowledges that childcare is a problem requiring resolution, we have not yet concluded discussions on that point.
Unions are also still requesting further information about enhanced testing.
We will continue to negotiate with the DES to make the necessary improvements and will advise members next week on the progress made.
At the moment these proposals do not affect post-primary classes. We await further information from Government and the DES on that part of the sector.
We continue to make the point to the DES and to ministers that they must continue to negotiate with Fórsa, and take the concerns of SNAs seriously, in order to resume services for SEN students.
While we share the hope that limited services can be provided from late next week, we will assess the level of progress made before issuing final advice to members on any limited return to in-school supports.