25th August 2020
Michéal Martin T.D.,
Roinn An Taoisigh,
Merrion Street Upper,
A Thaoisigh, a chara,
I write to follow up on a letter below, which I sent on August 4 to Minister Foley and copied to Minister Donnelly and to Mr. Sean O Foghlú, Secretary General An Roinn Oideachais.
INTO representatives attending stakeholder consultation meetings and I have endeavoured to progress the issues raised by me in the August 4 letter on a number of occasions since then.
I am now very concerned a few days prior to primary and special schools reopening, that we still have not received clarity on a number of the issues raised by us nearly three weeks ago.
I understand that approximately seven hundred Irish children aged 14 and under have contracted Covid-19, that one hundred of these positive tests were in the last fortnight and that the overall rate of infection in Ireland has doubled in a ten day period recently.
Naturally this is extremely worrying as 600,000 pupils and education staff together with thousands of parents and guardians prepare for the return to primary and special schools within the next week.
The INTO has worked very constructively with the Department of Education and all other key stakeholders towards the safe orderly reopening of our schools. In our view the outstanding clarifications are absolutely necessary to ensure that everyone can continue to follow the roadmap into September and beyond.
Although revised expert Irish public health advice on the wearing of face-coverings and on school transport has issued recently we are still concerned that the proposed changes may not have the desired effect in primary and special schools. The approach proposed in these schools is significantly different to that being recommended for students travelling to and from and attending post-primary schools.
It appears likely that clarity on the step by step approach to be taken in the event of a member of a school community testing positive for Covid-19 will issue shortly and if so, this will be very welcome.
In our view it is now essential that the long-promised full review of HPSC guidance for schools be finalised and published in advance of schools reopening.
We were informed at the stakeholder consultation meeting last Tuesday 18 August that discussions on testing and tracing for those in the education sector had been taking place between the Departments of Education and Health.
The Irish Times reported on Friday that you had ruled out serial testing of students and staff in schools. I was deeply concerned reading that report.
The following day the same paper reported that:
” The issue of a testing strategy for children (was to have been) discussed at NPHET last Thursday 20th and is currently under development”.
We believe that it is now incumbent on your government to announce immediately that priority testing will be made available to any asymptomatic teacher in a primary or special school who requests it. Furthermore we believe that it is imperative for the protection of 42,000 members represented by our union, that government commits to the establishment of a surveillance system and a rapid, repeated testing and tracing regime which will be rolled out from the beginning of September.
I request a meeting with you and your officials about this urgent matter this week.
Is mise, le meas,
INTO General Secretary
INTO letter to Minister Foley (4 August 2020)
Minister Norma Foley
Department of Education,
August 4, 2020.
Our members have taken the opportunity in the last week to study the “Roadmap For The Full Return To School”. While many aspects of the plans have been warmly welcomed, our members still have some concerns about their own health and well-being and that of their pupils. On behalf of our members, I seek your response on a number of significant issues raised with us, as representatives of almost 40,000 primary teachers in this jurisdiction.
We are pleased that weekly stakeholder consultations will continue until after schools reopen safely in less than four weeks’ time.
We now request and recommend that your Department commits to the following within the next fortnight prior to our members returning to school buildings
- The reviewing of the HSE/HSPC June 2020 “Interim recommendations for the reopening of schools and educational facilities”. That document explicitly stated that it would be “updated to reflect the changing situation” in the context of COVID-19 epidemiology in Ireland, and a review was also promised in light of the experience of other jurisdictions whose schools reopened in May and June.
- Priority access to testing being made available to any asymptomatic teacher who requests it. This will help build confidence in the safety of schools as workplaces, which will be extremely important to address the reasonable concerns of many of our members.
- The establishment of a routine surveillance system and a repeated testing and tracing regime for the education sector from the beginning of the academic year.
- Early clarification of the approach to be taken by HSE in a school in the event that a pupil or staff member tests positive for coronavirus. Our members are keen to ensure that incidences of infection in schools are taken seriously in order to break community transmission.
- Advice be given to staff and parents in relation to the voluntary wearing of face coverings.
INTO will be happy to pursue these issues at stakeholder meetings in the coming days and weeks, and we now seek assurances from you that these matters will be addressed urgently by government in the immediate future.
Irish National Teachers’ Organisation
CC: Minister Stephen Donnelly (Department of Health)