A leading teachers’ union has warned that reopening schools without introducing additional safety measures would be an “unacceptable risk”.
The ASTI is set to call on the Department of Health to introduce “a delayed and staggered reopening” of schools at a meeting on Tuesday.
The union, which represents around 18,500 secondary teachers, met on Monday to assess the return of schools as Covid-19 cases hit record highs, fuelled by the Omicron variant.
The meeting heard that there is unease among members around the safety of staff and pupils.
“The ASTI is deeply concerned that the Minister for Education may reopen schools without putting in place additional measures necessary to safeguard the health and safety of students and school staff,” the union said in a statement.
“This would constitute an unacceptable risk in the context of the Omicron wave.
“There is uncertainty regarding the impact in schools of this significantly more transmissible variant.”
Delayed and staggered reopening
The ASTI is calling for updated risk assessments to be presented prior to schools re-opening later this week.
Union president Eamon Dennehy said: “The priority must be that students and school staff can learn and work in an environment where there are appropriate safety measures in place to protect all concerned.
“The ASTI will be proposing a delayed and staggered reopening of schools at a meeting tomorrow with Department of Education and Public Health Officials.
“Face to face teaching with examination classes should be prioritised.”
We will be asking the Minister to consider making antigen tests available for all parents and their children to be used prior to going to school
The union has cited concerns around safety of school communities, staff shortages due to Covid, inadequate ventilation and a lack of Hepa air filtration devices and risks to immunocompromised individuals.
“We will be asking the Minister to consider making antigen tests available for all parents and their children to be used prior to going to school as a supplement to the existing testing and tracing regime in second-level schools” Mr Dennehy added.
“The ASTI will also be calling for the speedy rollout of Hepa filtration units.
“It beggars belief that almost two years into this pandemic this basic facility is not in place where necessary.”
Earlier on Monday, parents from the Education and Training Board Schools National Parents' Association also called for a staggered reopening amid record-breaking daily Covid cases.
The association, which represents over 47 per cent of post-primary schools, wrote to the Minister for Education following Nphet predictions that Ireland's Omicron wave is not to peak until mid-January.
Minister for Education Norma Foley is set to meet with teachers' unions, parents groups and boards of management on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, Taoiseach Micheál Martin, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar and Green Party leader Eamon Ryan will also meet after the country witnessed a number of record-high daily case tallies over the last week.
A further 16,986 cases were confirmed on Monday, as hospitalisations for Covid-19 rose above 800 patients. Amid pressure on the health system, the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) called for all elective care to be cancelled until the end of January.
With high levels of staff also absent in the food manufacturing and the retail distribution sectors due to the virus, there were additional warnings of growing pressure on the critical supply chain.