INTO President Mary Magner has reiterated her union’s desire to continue engaging with all the relevant stakeholders to ensure primary schools can open in a safe manner in the near future.
The Cork native was responding to the Government’s decision to postpone the phased return for children with special educational needs to in-school learning on Thursday.
Speaking to the Echo Ms Magner said: “today isn’t a good day for anybody and especially for the children of Ireland. Every teacher would love to be at the coalface of the classroom. However, the issue is there are genuine fears and huge anxiety levels out there with regards to the huge community transmissions that are still unfortunately very high. If they drop, teachers and SNAs would feel a lot more comfortable going back into the classroom.
“We are still there to push forward on this. We want to see a solution. We are willing to engage in more conversations with all the various stakeholders. Things are tense today. We are still willing to get around the table with the Ministers,” she said.
Minister for Education Norma Foley and Minister of State for Special Education and Inclusion Josepha Madigan confirmed following a meeting between the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation's (INTO) Central Executive Committee (CEC), and the Fórsa Education Executive on Tuesday evening that the reopening of the schools "will not be possible owing to a lack of co-operation by key staff unions in the primary sector".
Following the meeting, both unions had called on the Government to postpone the resumption of school-based special education needs services.
“There was a good bit of anger and frustration in the Minister’s statement. What we need now are cool heads. We need to step back and reflect a small bit now. We need to get back into working together and in a timely way. We need to give schools plenty of time to prepare. I don’t want to play a blame game, but communication from the Department can be better. To release a statement on a Friday evening at 7pm is not the way to do business. Consultation with principals, boards of management, and all the key stakeholders is absolutely vital going forward,” she added.
Ms Magner revealed the a public health webinar, organised by the Department of Health, which was attended by thousands of teachers, SNAs, and officials did not inspire the required levels of confidence teachers and SNAs needed to feel safe going back into school on Thursday.
“Teachers and SNAs want reassurances that it is safe to teach in a school environment. There is nobody more diligent and caring of special education needs than teachers themselves.”
The INTO President stressed the way forward is to keep communicating and seeking ways to ensure a safe ground for all the stakeholders is found.
“The next step is we need to get back around the table again. We need to work our way through it and it will happen. It is tough on the students and their guardians. Teachers want to be back as soon as possible. Teachers are at their best in the classroom. We will get through it. We are willing to do our level best to try and get schools open as soon as it is safe. We are still willing and we will work alongside the two Ministers.”
Ms Magner is also hopeful teachers and SNAs can be accommodated with regards to receiving the vaccine at an earlier point than they are currently scheduled to receive it.
“We appreciate there are issues with the rollout of the vaccine, but we are down at point 11 for the vaccine. If we are to be deemed to be essential workers we need to be moved up the list to point six. We appreciate there are priority lists for the vaccine and the health care workers must get it before every teacher as we can mitigate against the risk,” she added.