THE head of the country’s largest secondary teachers’ trade union has reassured parents that schools will reopen in three weeks but says a clear policy on wearing face masks is urgently needed.
Cork-based president of the Association of Secondary Teachers, Ireland (ASTI) Ann Piggott said everybody involved was keen to see schools re-open.
“I do expect that second-level schools will reopen in three weeks. The Government wants to reopen schools and parents want their children back in the classrooms.
"Teachers want to be at school and students need to return to schools that provide sanctuary and care as well as education and social skills.
"Teachers much prefer the interaction and real-life communication rather than remote learning and have been concerned about their students’ welfare,” she said.
However, she said it was key to ensure there is a safe return to education.
“If we go into schools and if things aren't done properly, chances are that schools won't remain open for too long. We want to make sure that schools remain open and that people are educated for as long as is humanly possible,” she said.
Ms Piggott highlighted how the plan for reopening schools was modelled on interim health advice issued in June, but said there had been a number of considerable changes in the country since then.
“The public health guidelines that are issued for schools shouldn’t be overly different to the health guidelines issued for the rest of society,” she said, adding that “so much has happened” since June.
The Union has now written to the Minister for Education Norma Foley to request that she reconsider the wearing of face masks by students and teachers.
“We can accept anything in line with public health advice, but public health advice may now be different,” Ms Piggott added.
Meanwhile, the former HSE chief Tony O’Brien said there was a clear-cut case for face masks to be made mandatory for secondary school students when schools reopen.
He said: “It’s going to be a slightly odd situation where they’re going to have to wear masks to travel to school on public transport, then when they’re in situations which are likely to be equally crowded they will not be required to wear them."