School staff unions raise concern over partially keeping schools open

ireland
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Digital Desk Staff

Unions representing school staff have expressed concern over plans to keep schools open for special needs and Leaving Cert students.

As the Irish Times reports, the Cabinet has been examining plans to keep secondary schools open for three days a week for up to 60,000 Leaving Cert students. Moreover, there are plans to keep open special schools and special classes for an estimated 15,000 pupils.

However, some unions say they have strong reservations over the health implications for their members.

Andy Pike, head of education at trade union Fórsa which represents thousands of special needs assistants, said reopening special schools and classes as normal “presents challenges that just cannot be met”.

He said feedback from its members indicated that “many will not be able to attend work due to a lack of childcare and valid safety concerns”.

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Mr Pike added that a limited service could be provided through “structured remote supports” or a programme which resembles summer support programmes.

Ann Pigott, president of the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland, said the union has not been consulted about plans to keep secondary schools open for Leaving Cert students. She said such a move seemed “very unusual” at this stage and the union wished to see numbers peak and fall before schools reopen.

Public health advice

Members are very worried about the surge in cases, new variants of Covid-19 and their potential impact on school settings.

The Irish National Teachers’ Organisation has insisted that any decisions being made by Government regarding the reopening of schools must be underpinned by the most up-to-date public health advice.

The union represents many special needs teachers who may have to return to the classroom under the plans being examined by Government.

John Boyle, the INTO’s general secretary, said the union had concerns over the number of young children who have tested positive for Covid-19 within the last two weeks.

He said a thorough analysis of these figures relating to any new variants of the virus is needed.

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