The Irish National Teachers' Organisation (INTO) has said it is growing increasingly concerned that public health precautions for teachers are simply not adequate.
It is looking for "immediate assurances" from the Government that schools are safe amidst the increasing incidence of COVID-19 in the community.
"Many primary teachers have underlying health conditions or have family members whose health is at risk from COVID-19. The threat associated with rising levels of infection in communities is leading to apprehension and anxiety among school staff nationwide, especially in counties where level 4 restrictions already apply," the INTO said.
It insisted that the desire to keep schools open "must be met with a firm commitment to keep schools safe".
It has called for a number of measures to be put in place immediately as a result of the "deteriorating landscape". These include:
-The publication of the exact number of school staff who have tested positive since September categorised by school type, i.e. primary or special schools, and by staff roles, i.e. mainstream class teacher, special education teacher, other non-class teachers, SNA, school secretary, caretaker etc..., and publication of the medical evidence supporting the continuation of attendance in schools of staff who are pregnant or are in the high-risk category of health
-The provision of a clear explanation of the difference between a close contact and casual contact in a school setting. When HSE risk assessments are conducted following confirmation of a positive case in a school, there must be direct consultation with all staff associated with the class in which the confirmed case is based. It is essential that the class and staff in question are tested within 24 hours and that they restrict movement until the testing and tracing process is complete
-An urgent review of the policy on the wearing of face masks by pupils and school staff, to provide up-to-date public health guidance on the use of this equipment in school settings
-An additional suite of protective measures for primary and special schools in areas where level 4 of the Government's framework applies, including an immediate ban on extra-curricular activities, the restriction of parents/guardians congregating at school grounds to a maximum of 15 mask-wearing adults at any given time and a strict no-visitors policy for all schools.
"Despite our best efforts, the Government has failed to deliver a fit-for-purpose, fast-tracked, sector-specific testing and tracing system in the seven weeks since schools reopened. This has resulted in teachers regularly having to initiate out-of-hours contact with families and staff members when they have been notified of positive tests.
"This situation is simply untenable. If our primary and special schools are to fully reopen after mid-term break and operate safely next month, the Government must ensure that the necessary protective measures and protocols are put in place within the next fortnight," commented INTO general secretary, John Boyle.
Discussions on this topic are now closed.