PRIMARY school principals in Cork have called on the Government to provide free antigen tests for teachers amid surging Covid-19 case numbers.
On Thursday the Government confirmed arrangements for a new system of antigen testing of asymptomatic close contacts in primary schools put in place by the HSE.
However, the published document announcing the plan does not reference teachers.
Antigen tests will be made available to the children in a primary school pod, where a child in the pod has had a PCR test that detected Covid-19.
Where two or more confirmed cases of Covid-19 occur in a class within a seven-day period outside of a single pod, antigen testing will be offered to the full class.
The tests will be sent to the children’s parents by the HSE.
Parents or guardians of a primary school child, who has been confirmed as having Covid-19 following a PCR test, are asked to inform their school’s principal.
The school principal will then inform the parents of other children in the pod of a confirmed case.
No personal details of the child will be shared.
These parents will be provided with the option to receive free antigen tests for their child, which they will be able to order for delivery to their home.
It is not mandatory for children to participate in antigen testing.
Children who are in a pod where a child has tested positive for Covid-19 can continue to attend school, whether they participate in antigen testing or not, provided that they are not experiencing symptoms of Covid-19.
Principal of Scoil Padre Pio in Churchfield, Ken Foley said the initiative, while not perfect, is “long overdue”.
“We’ve been calling out for it for a long time with the Department.
“We’ll watch how it goes over the next few weeks and hopefully it will go some way towards keeping it [Covid-19] out,” he said.
“Like most schools we’re at the pin of our collar trying to get subs in and trying to get cover - fortunately we’ve been able to stay open,” he added.
Mr Foley described the deteriorating Covid situation in school settings.
“Every day there are cases in our school - there are cases in every school.
“The secretary is taking calls at a mighty rate,” he said.
“[Covid] coupled with the normal respiratory illnesses that are going around - it’s a very difficult situation for us all to be in,” he added.
Mr Foley called for free antigen tests to be made available to teachers and for consideration to be given to prioristing booster vaccines for teachers because of exposure to unvaccinated children.
This was echoed by Kieran Kelly, Principal of Togher Boys’ National School who said that by prioritising booster vaccines for teachers, Government would be demonstrating its commitment to education in a significant way.
“I do think the staff should be getting boosters.
“They [Government] have continually said how important children's education is and how important keeping schools open is.
“This would be evidence that they really do prioritise primary school children and their education.
Mr Kelly said that the school has itself purchased antigen tests which are available for teachers to take to give them “peace of mind” amid rising case numbers but that this has been a costly initiative for the school.
“There is a nervousness there and definitely in the last number of weeks due to the rising numbers. The stress levels are up in staff,” he said.
Speaking in relation to the Government’s new system of antigen testing, Mr Kelly said that relying on a parent to inform the school about a positive case is problematic.
“That’s obviously the biggest issue - that’s been an issue all along.
Mr Kelly said he would also favour antigen tests to be given directly to the schools for them to issue rather than parents having to order them.
“We were kind of thinking that they might send antigen tests out to the schools and that then if there was a positive case you could say to families take an antigen test and it would be instantaneous,” he said.
The Department of Education has said information materials for parents will be shared with schools and publicised directly to parents early next week.
The programme will commence on or before November 29.