25th August 2020
INTO has written to An Taoiseach Micheál Martin seeking clarity on expert public health guidance relating to primary and special schools. Three weeks ago, the union sought clarity on a number of issues from Minister Foley and Minister Donnelly. 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.
INTO has reminded An Taoiseach that as one hundred 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 World Health Organisation 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.
INTO is aware of a number of members whose health is at high risk and who have multiple underlying conditions. In a grossly unfair move, the teachers’ occupational health service Medmark has advised that members with such conditions should return to school.
INTO is now calling on government to intervene so that these members can appeal their Medmark decisions in a timely manner and have the opinion of their treating doctors fully taken into account rather than the Department simply adopting the view, often delivered remotely and facelessly, of the Department of Education’s health advisor.
As our members return to the front lines this week, urgent and swift action from government is now required to review existing public health guidance and ensure it remains fit for purpose.
Priority testing and contact tracing
Priority access to testing must be made available to any asymptomatic teacher who requests it. This will help build confidence in the safety of schools as workplaces and this will address the reasonable concerns of many of our members. Prolonged absences from schools awaiting tests benefit no one.
Parents too are owed a duty of care by the government. In early July, the INTO demanded in the government communicate with employers to secure much needed flexibility by parents in their workforce who may need to take swift action to remove their child from the school or keep their child home where they are exhibiting symptoms of the virus. At a meeting of the Central Executive Committee, INTO has written to the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment on this important matter.