Special schools could be allowed to reopen on voluntary basis

ireland
Minister for Education Norma Foley accused unions of rejecting public health advice
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The Department of Education is understood to be exploring whether to allow individual special schools to reopen if enough staff are willing to return on a voluntary basis.

However, sources told The Irish Times that there are concerns that such a move would be divisive and antagonise school staff unions.

Most stakeholders feel the fastest pathway towards reopening special education rests on building confidence among staff over the safety measures and seeing a decline in virus transmission rates in the community.

The Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO) and Fórsa, the union which represents special needs assistants, resumed talks on Thursday with the Department of Education over reopening schools.

All sides have reaffirmed their commitment to the earliest possible resumption of services to school students with additional needs.

It follows the collapse of plans to reopen schools earlier this week amid rancour and acrimony.

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While Minister for Education Norma Foley accused unions of rejecting public health advice that schools were safe environments, unions insisted the Government move to reopen schools was premature.

On Thursday, Ministers and the unions were keen to emphasise that they were willing to re-engage and work towards solutions.

INTO general secretary John Boyle said talks with the department were “constructive” and the union hoped to raise the reasonable concerns of members to find a route towards a “safe and orderly reopening”.

Fórsa said it shared the goals of the department in making in-school provision for students with special education needs available as soon as possible.

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