As schools begin re-opening their doors, the Cork-based President of the Association of Secondary Teachers, Ireland (ASTI), Ann Piggott has expressed concern over reports of large assemblies and staff meetings taking place at some schools.
Ms Piggott said they had heard reports of large staff meetings taking place, with 83 people meeting in a school in one instance.
Speaking to, the ASTI President said “this to us should not be happening if we can only have a public gathering outside of 15, six inside, or 50 if it is a wedding.
“It doesn't seem right that we should have so many people gathered when there is another option. The other option is that this meeting could be held remotely.
“We are not in favour of big groups meeting like that.”
Ms Piggott said she was also concerned about reports of large groups of students meeting likewise at assemblies.
“We don't want that happening and we are advising our members to not attend any event like that in the school. There are alternatives. Students could be divided into groups of 30,” she said.
Ms Piggott said that the Union is also seeking an urgent meeting with the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) to discuss the re-opening of schools for teachers in the “high risk” health category.
The President said the union is receiving a high number of communications from teachers expressing a variety of concerns, including the safety of students and teachers in the high-risk category who have underlying illnesses.
The ASTI President described how one member had contacted them with worries after he was advised that he should go back to school.
She said the teacher in question had battled with acute leukemia, had a cell bone marrow transplant, is diabetic, has asthma and has anemia.
“Another lady that I was talking to had cancer. She lost a lung, she lost a breast, she is very worried,” she said.
The ASTI President suggested that these teachers should be accommodated to work remotely.
“We don't want those members going into schools and risking their lives which effectively is going to happen.
“The other alternative we want is maybe they would be allowed to work from home.
“There will be a whole grouping of students in similar categories who may not want to be in school either so they will need remote learning from teachers so if we could match one group with the other than that would solve the problem for everybody,” she said.
She said only a small number of teachers were impacted, and that there were other teachers in the high-risk category who were happy to return to school.
The ASTI had contacted the HPSC to request a meeting with them to seek a review of the HPSC advice provided to the Department of Education.
However, that request was refused.
The ASTI has now written to the Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly asking him to intervene to secure a meeting between the union and the HPSC regarding the re-opening of schools for those in the “high risk” category.
Ms Piggott said they are awaiting a response on this, but that she is “hoping it will be resolved in some way” shortly.