Unions representing school-based staff have achieved significant, though insufficient, reassurances on measures to protect school students and staff in a recently-established forum involving representatives of the education department, the HSE, and its public health experts, according to Fórsa.
The union, which represents over 12,000 special needs assistants (SNAs), school secretaries and caretakers, said today (Thursday) that the HSE had agreed to review the use of face coverings for all age groups in primary schools, and to step up public health supports to schools, with a commitment that new regional public health teams would provide risk assessments within 24 hours if a school notified a case or suspected case of Covid-19.
While we recognise that there are genuine confidentiality issues, Fórsa insists that the provision of information to protect health should have equal importance.
Fórsa’s head of education, Andy Pike, said a new awareness campaign, targeted at students and parents, was to be rolled out over the next few weeks. And the HSE has also agreed to a union request for improved weekly data on the number of Covid-19 tests conducted in schools, tests carried out on school-age children in the community, and adult cases detected in schools.
“We remain unhappy with the level of information staff have on potential cases. While we recognise that there are genuine confidentiality issues, Fórsa insists that the provision of information to protect health should have equal importance. We will be continuing discussions with the HSE and the Department of Education and Skills,” he said.
Mr Pike said Fórsa and other unions would also continue to raise issues of social distancing and the need for adequate protection, including PPE, for high-risk staff and had requested that Lead Worker Representatives be consulted as part of the public health risk assessment.
We are now meeting weekly with the HSE and education department. This is a step forward as we are now discussing these important issues directly with the public health experts and departmental officials.
“We are now meeting weekly with the HSE and education department. This is a step forward as we are now discussing these important issues directly with the public health experts and departmental officials. Some significant progress has been made over the last week or so, but a number of understandable concerns voiced by SNAs, secretaries and caretakers, who will be returning to work next Monday (2nd November), have yet to be adequately addressed,” he said.
In the meantime, Fórsa has advised its members who might be concerned that any risk assessment in their class or working environment has not designated them as a close contact, to seek advice from their GP who can arrange for a free Covid test if this is indicated.