4th December 2020
The INTO continues to engage with the Department of Education, school management and NPHET to represent the concerns of members and will endeavour to provide updates as they become available.
Latest public health data
Between November 22 and November 28, some 72 primary and special schools underwent mass testing with 1748 people tested. Of those tested, 31 were deemed positive, a positivity rate of 1.8%.
Public health authorities have confirmed their intention to conduct a further review of the school sector at the end of the first term, to inform decision making.
The latest weekly public health report for the education sector is available here.
Gaps in public health cover
INTO raised a number of concerns in respect of weekend contact tracing and testing service times in a number of areas of the country. The union also raised some examples of gaps in the public health mechanisms supporting schools. Regarding schools in border areas, public health officials stated that regular practical engagement and proactive work across the two jurisdictions is ongoing.
Travel to UK for essential reasons and non-essential travel overseas
Officials in the Department of Education confirmed that the current advice is that if someone, such as an INTO member, travels to the UK for an essential reason, they do not have to restrict their movements in the UK while exercising this essential function. (They understand this to mean that when not carrying out this essential function, e.g. accompanying a child to medical treatment. They must restrict their movement at other times while in the UK.) Similarly, when they return, they do not have to restrict their movement in Ireland, provided they have otherwise restricted their movements while abroad (with the exception of movement necessary to carry out the essential function).
Further clarification on overseas travel as it relates to schools from 6 January 2021 is expected to issue shortly. The INTO anticipates that teachers may have to sign a declaration on 6 January to confirm there has been no material change to their Covid-19 status during the school closure. Further information will be provided when available.
Updated guidance for schools
The Department of Education has published revised guidance on ventilation. While the department has stated that the front-loaded minor works grant can be used to install air monitors, the INTO has insisted that bespoke funding is needed for such air monitoring systems.
The Department of Education has recently published a number of documents and resources on gov.ie/schools including:
- Advisory videos from public health experts for principals, teachers and parents,
- A report from the Inspectorate analysing data received from principals regarding the resumption of schooling,
Priority access to Covid-19 vaccine
As we await formal approval of several Covid-19 vaccines and their rollout in Ireland, the INTO has again demanded that teachers, as front-line workers, be granted priority access to the vaccine once healthcare workers and the most vulnerable groups (e.g., residents of nursing homes) have been vaccinated. The INTO general secretary wrote this week to An Taoiseach Michael Martin TD, to set out our case for priority access to this vaccine. A copy of the correspondence is available here.
The Department of Education and the HSE held a webinar entitled ‘Covid-19 and Schools- the Public Health Approach’, which was attended by approximately 1,000 school principals. The webinar has been recorded and will be made available on gov.ie/schools.
The department notified the INTO that they will update their FAQs in the week ahead. Public health has also hosted a webinar for general practitioners to provide them with an update in respect of the school sector.
Public awareness campaign
Since the country has moved to level 3, the INTO has received confirmation that the Government’s communications team intends to rollout a national public awareness campaign for school communities in respect of the current restrictions. The INTO stressed the importance of releasing this public awareness campaign well in advance of the Christmas closure.