Education Department confirms that schools will reopen Thursday

The Teachers' Union of Ireland (TUI) insisted on the need for a further meeting, which will take place tomorrow
Education Department confirms that schools will reopen Thursday

Education Minister Norma Foley met with representatives from public health, the HSE, and education stakeholders to discuss the re-opening this afternoon.

The Department of Education has confirmed that schools will reopen as planned on Thursday, January 6, following a meeting between stakeholders today.

Education Minister Norma Foley met with representatives from public health, the HSE, and teachers' unions to discuss the re-opening this afternoon. 

It was advised that there was no public health rationale to delay the return to classrooms.

According to the Department, the meetings were "productive", with all parties recognising the importance of in-school teaching. 

Education stakeholders were briefed on how the Covid-19 mitigation measures currently in place in schools have been reviewed and were told that the measures - which include hand washing, the wearing of masks, and social distancing - remain "effective and appropriate". 

According to the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO), the Government agreed to provide teachers with medical-grade face masks.

The union said it was informed that more student teachers would be made available to undertake substitution work following staff shortages.

Inspectors are to help schools that cannot access substitution cover to make decisions regarding how best to give priority to children with additional needs and younger classes. 

Other classes may have to return to remote learning from time to time.

The roll-out of the booster vaccination campaign for adults and the opening of the vaccine programme to children was also discussed.

Guidance on ensuring that symptomatic students and household close contacts do not attend school is being issued through a multi-lingual communications campaign.

Clarifications and further information will be issued tomorrow in advance of the reopening.

Union reaction

The Teachers' Union of Ireland (TUI) insisted on the need for a further meeting, which will take place tomorrow.

In a statement, the union said that today's meeting had not engaged on the operational details that may need to be applied from Thursday.

"The union had earlier insisted that schools must have flexibility on how they re-open based on their particular circumstances.

"The TUI also made clear that given the significant concern around the Omicron variant, the operation of schools must be kept under constant review," the statement said.

The union added that it was informed that a detailed document will be issued providing clarity on isolation periods and the use of antigen and PCR tests for children.

It was also confirmed at the meeting that teachers will continue to follow the standard testing, tracing and isolating regime that applies to society generally.

Meanwhile, the Irish National Teachers' Organisation (INTO) welcomed many of the updates discussed today but stated that it believes the use of contract tracing in schools should recommence.

"We fundamentally reject the findings of the public health review which has concluded today that contact tracing should not be reinstated in primary educational settings at this time," the union said in a member update.

"We will continue to demand that this essential support be reinstated."

Concerns were also voiced for ventilation in schools.

"We remain concerned that primary and special schools have not received sufficient funding to guarantee high-quality air circulation in all teaching spaces," the update said.

"Many schools are reporting difficulties in procuring HEPA filter devices locally. The Department of Education needs to intervene with immediate support for these schools."

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