According to new data, more than 500 Covid-19 outbreaks linked to school staff and children were recorded in the second half of 2021.
The Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) data covers the period between June 27 and the end of the year, and recorded 514 outbreaks linked to schoolchildren and staff.
The HPSC noted alongside the data: “Transmission of Covid-19 within the school has not necessarily been established in these outbreaks.”
The Teachers’ Union of Ireland has accused the Department of Education of failing to make a decision on the provision of high-grade masks for schools.
General secretary Michael Gillespie said: “School communities are returning to unprecedentedly challenging environments around the country today.
People Before Profit TD Paul Murphy also criticised the way in which schools were reopened, calling it “reckless and unsafe”.
“With case numbers going through the roof, and most schoolchildren unvaccinated and almost all unboostered, this is a recipe for disaster,” he said.
It came as daily case numbers reached a new record total of 23,817.
The Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO) said the feedback from their members was that “today was an incredibly difficult first day back”.
Union general secretary John Boyle said: “School leaders and teachers have put in Trojan work to ensure the reopening of schools and the delivery of classroom tuition to as many pupils as possible.
“Without the support of student teachers, the situation would have been even more challenging.
“Principals, essentially abandoned by public health during the last term, need robust, consistent and swift support as they chart the uncertain days and weeks ahead.
“In order to maximise our chances of providing in-person teaching and learning throughout this term, we again call on Government to reinstate contact tracing in schools.
“Pregnant teachers have shared their anxiety and concerns with us and we have raised these issues with the Department of Education and public health.”