A union that represents Ireland’s special needs assistants (SNAs) has said that an agreement has not yet been reached on plans for the reopening of schools for children with special needs.
The Department of Education announced plans to commence a phased reopening of schools for students with special needs, which was to start from next Thursday.
In announcing the plans, Minister for Education Norma Foley TD and Minister of State for Special Education and Inclusion Josepha Madigan TD had said that they had “a positive engagement” with primary and special education stakeholders.
In a letter to schools on Friday, the Department said that all special schools would reopen on 21 January and that all staff, including all teachers and SNAs who work in special schools should return to work, aside from those on approved leave or in circumstances provided for by the occupational health scheme.
The letter set out the framework under which teaching would take place in special schools, special classes in mainstream primary schools, and for pupils with special educational needs who attend mainstream primary schools.
However, on Friday evening, Fórsa said that an agreement had not been reached on the safety measures that would allow for the resumption of services during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The union, who represent over 12,000 SNAs, said that talks with the Department had not concluded and that a number of issues were still to be resolved, such as the safety of SNAs and the absence of childcare arrangements for workers.
In a statement, Fórsa said that they had hoped to advise SNAs to co-operate with the phased return to schools for children with special educational needs as soon as possible, but additional measures would be needed in order to ensure the safety of both staff and students.
The union said it is working to ensure the return of services for those with special educational needs and to build confidence in the safety of classrooms among staff, students and parents, but that an agreement has not yet been reached.