A teachers’ union said it “cannot be convinced” children will safely return to school after the mid-term break in light of the rising number of Covid-19 cases in the community.
On Monday, the Government announced the country was moving to Level 5 of the Living with Covid plan, under which schools will remain open, from Wednesday.
Speaking at the announcement on Monday night, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said it was “necessary” to keep schools open to avoid young people’s futures becoming “another victim” of Covid-19. The advice from the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) also recommended schools remain open for the six -week period.
However, John Boyle, general secretary of the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation, said the Government’s approach to testing was “shambolic” and there were now eight or nine days to prove schools were safe.
“Back in March the Government made the right decision to close schools, we worked so hard to reopen schools, but three months on I cannot be convinced by Micheál Martin’s comments last night that the children will be returning after Halloween to a safe school and of course it’s vital that their education continues, but it’s even more vital for their families that they will remain safe,” Mr Boyle told RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland.
“Will parents put their children on the bus? Will teachers who are pregnant or teachers who have underlying health conditions, will their doctors allow them back into schools when the virus is so high in the community that Dr [Colm] Henry stated a couple of days ago that it is a great threat to schools.”
He said “the shambolic approch of public health to the tracking, to the testing and the surveillance of our sector is going to be sorted out before the first Monday in November”.
The teachers unions will be meeting with Nphet today, Mr Boyle said, and they are prepared to work with public health officials to ensure schools were safe, but he had concerns about the data to date and exactly how many children and teachers had contracted the virus.
Kieran Christie of the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland, said there was a lot of anecdotal evidence of long delays in contact tracing after cases were identified in schools.
The union will be balloting its members as the union needs to be in a position to “react with agility” if they need to take action. “We want schools to open, but we want them to open safely,” he said.
Mr Christie said he needed to be convinced but that the evidence was sparse. “What we are seeing on the ground is different from the pronouncements.”
However, speaking on the same programme, Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien said “schools will be back” after the break.
“It’s really important that people understand that schools will remain open. Where concerns are raised by teachers, of course they will be addressed,” he said.
“This Government respects teachers and the work they’re doing because our kids and their education is absolutely vitally important. Everything we are doing, and one of the things we are doing, is to make sure our kids and our young adults continue to get education and continue to go to school.”