Teachers have called for an “urgent review” in relation to children wearing face coverings in certain circumstances.
It comes following advice from the World Health Organisation (WHO) which states that children over the age of 12 should wear face masks, and children aged between six and 11 should wear coverings depending on how widespread the transmission of the virus is.
The Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO) said it has written to Taoiseach Micheal Martin seeking clarity on the expert health advice relating to primary and special schools.
In a statement, INTO said the union sought clarity on a number of issues from Minister for Education Norma Foley and Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly three weeks ago.
“These issues included the wearing of face coverings and the approach to be taken by the HSE in a school in the event that a pupil or staff member tests positive for Covid-19,” the union said.
“INTO has reminded An Taoiseach that, as 100 children have tested positive in the last fortnight, it is vital that priority access to testing and tracing be made available to everyone in the education sector.
“INTO has noted that the WHO is now recommending that children aged six and older wear face masks and, in that context, calls on government to urgently review the HPSC guidance in relation to children wearing face coverings in certain circumstances.
“The union was promised in June that this guidance would be updated to reflect the changing situation in the context of Covid-19 epidemiology in Ireland.
“A review was also promised in light of the experience of other jurisdictions whose schools reopened in May and June.”
It comes as the phased reopening of schools began today.
Many primary and secondary schools are reopening this week and next week.
The president of the Association of Secondary Teachers in Ireland (ASTI) has also raised concerns about teachers in high risk groups returning to schools.
Ann Piggott said she has received phone calls and letters over the past few weeks from “extremely vulnerable” teachers.
“There are two groups, there’s a very high risk group and a high risk group and a lot of people in the high risk group have very serious conditions, such as cancer, lung conditions, chronic kidney disease, or combinations of diabetes and chronic kidney diseases, and asthma,” she told RTE.
“While the teachers wish it were the perfect situation and they were perfectly able to go back to work, if they go back to work they are seriously in grave danger.
“All that’s open to them is that they could apply to occupational health service to have their situation looked at to see if it was possible for them to have alternative working arrangements.
“The HSE guidelines states that people who are in a high risk group should stay home as much as possible, and they should work from home if they’re at high risk and they should practice social distancing.
“We thought that a perfect solution would be if a vulnerable student who can’t come to school who will be at home could be taught by the vulnerable teachers.
“That would make sure that everybody is quite safe and we’re only talking about a very low percentage of teachers.”
Meanwhile, Sinn Fein TD Donnchadh O Laoghaire criticised the Department of Education for what he described was their “lack of consideration” of students and staff with underlying health conditions
The party’s spokesman for education also claimed that the roadmap for the reopening of schools and the department’s guidance offers very little direction.
“While small in percentage terms, in real terms many children will see their lives profoundly affected, and they are just as much entitled to a decent education as anyone else,” Mr O Laoghaire said.
“There is very little guidance on how they will be supported and it appears that much of the responsibility will fall on special education teachers.
“These teachers will be pulled from pillar to post as it stands under the Government’s plans and will be very stretched in attempting to provide education remotely on top of their existing duties.”