Update on engagement with department officials – reopening of schools

Over the last number of days, engagement between the INTO, education stakeholders and officials from the Department of Education and NPHET has intensified. We remain committed to securing an orderly and safe reopening of our primary and special schools, with a particular focus on how we can best support our most vulnerable pupils.

The INTO Central Executive Committee met this evening, following the latest round of talks.

The INTO has always insisted that any decision on a full or partial reopening of our schools must be informed by public health advice. As such, the INTO has insisted that an up to date public health assessment must be published to support any proposals. The INTO has received assurance that senior members of NPHET and the public health experts who have regularly engaged with the INTO since October, will communicate directly with the sector in the coming week.

The Central Executive Committee has reiterated the absolute necessity for the government to:

  • Provide time to school management and staff to plan for any reopening of our schools.
  • Publish up to date public health advice on the particulars well in advance of any planned reopening.
  • Give higher prioritisation to INTO members for the Covid-19 vaccine.
  • Continue proper consultation with the INTO on all future proposals.
  • Augment the public health supports and testing and tracing available to schools with immediate effect.
  • Ensure that childcare is available for INTO members who are parents.
  • Communicate clearly with the sector in advance of any reopening of schools.

While we welcome the increased engagement and input of public health into decision making, it is imperative that government makes it abundantly clear that failure to comply with the wider public health advice during any phased return to school risks undermining efforts to ensure a safe, orderly return to school for all pupils and staff. In that regard, it will not be acceptable for children who are exhibiting symptoms or who are close contacts of confirmed cases to attend school as all necessary steps must be taken to protect the health and safety of the staff, students and their families.

INTO will participate in another round of engagement tomorrow and we will endeavour to keep members informed.