Fórsa has said it supports the phased reopening of schools, as set out in the Government’s ‘living with Covid’ plan announced this afternoon (Tuesday), so long as it continues to be endorsed by public health experts.
But the union said continued progress on the reduction of Covid-19 transmission, including the prioritisation of vaccinations for special education staff, was needed to underpin the plan and keep schools open.
Continued progress on the reduction of Covid-19 transmission, including the prioritisation of vaccinations for special education staff, is needed to underpin the plan and keep schools open.
Fórsa, which represents over 12,000 SNAs and other school staff, said schools would need continued public health support, with contact tracing and testing to swiftly identify any instances of in-school transmission. It welcomed the mandatory use of medical-grade face masks for SNAs working closely with students and new protections for pregnant staff, which are to remain in place after school services are fully resumed.
But the union’s Education Division Executive said it was disappointed and concerned that no progress had been made on prioritising vaccinations for staff working in special education, where social distancing is effectively impossible.
The union’s Education Division Executive said it was disappointed and concerned that no progress had been made on prioritising vaccinations for staff working in special education.
The executive noted that prevailing public health advice from NPHET says risks to staff and students can be successfully managed through the mitigation measures agreed with Fórsa and other unions. These measures, which include important protections for SNAs aged over 60 and those with high-risk medical conditions, will continue in both primary and post-primary settings until schools in each sector are fully open.
Fórsa’s head of education, Andy Pike, said the plan could succeed if there was continued progress on reducing the transmission of Covid-19 and daily case numbers. “With the stronger protections we’ve agreed, and following the experience reopening of special schools and special classes, Fórsa can support the phased and cautious reopening of other elements of the schools system leading to a full reopening as soon as this is recommended by public health advice,” he said.
Mr Pike said the union would keep the situation under review, taking account of the level of in-school transmission each week. “Whilst the union-negotiated risk mitigation measures have so far maintained safety for students and staff, the only way the Government can guarantee that schools will stay open is to prioritise school staff to receive the Covid vaccine. We call on the Government to prioritise the vaccination of special education staff in March,” he said.