Member update – Preparations for school reopening at advanced stage

Weekly meetings between education partners, the Department of Education and public health officials will continue throughout August, considering a wide range of issues, including funding for sanitising, PPE, enhanced cleaning and air ventilation monitors. We expect the Department will write to schools this week regarding these matters. 

General updates  

The INTO has been advised that the infection control and prevention measures and school supports that were in place prior to the summer, including school transport arrangements, will remain from the beginning of the next school year. There will be no need for board of management meetings to adopt the revised version of the COVID-19 Response Plan for their schools.  

The Department has confirmed that staff meetings and parent-teacher meetings will continue to be held remotely until further notice. All school employees will be required to complete return-to-work forms in the days prior to their schools reopening. 

The Department and public health officials have promised to initiate a multi-lingual public awareness campaign aimed at ensuring that those who are unwell stay at home from school. The campaign will be designed to explain the COVID-19 protocols to new members of school communities as well as to those who attended schools in the previous school year.  

Public health and Department officials will study the effectiveness of pilot schemes for antigen testing, which have been conducted in childcare and higher-education settings prior to any school rollout. 

COVID-19 vaccination and registration 

With three weeks remaining until schools reopen, the INTO strongly recommends that eligible members register for vaccination without delay. The Department of Education has confirmed that the vaccination of education staff will not be mandatory. We will seek clarification on the practical implications of this decision.  

The INTO advises its members to continue to follow expert Irish public health advice. We also remind members that they are under no obligation to participate in extracurricular activities during school holidays. Department of Education officials have confirmed to the INTO that in the event of COVID-19 outbreaks among groups of children during the summer holidays, public health will liaise with organisers of any gatherings that lead to outbreaks.   

In advance of the anticipated issuing of a revised Department Circular on COVID-19 leave, the INTO has expressed concern to the Department regarding the arrangements for certain staff members who have not been given the opportunity to register for vaccination. This includes those in early pregnancy and those who are immune suppressed. It is expected that after consultation with public health advisors, the Department will issue a revised circular shortly.  

Teachers who consider themselves to be very high risk of serious illness from contracting COVID-19 and teachers who are pregnant were reminded last month that they must complete the online COVID-19 Risk Assessment Questionnaire and submit it to the OHS (Medmark) in order to be provided with a COVID-19 Health Risk Categorisation Report in advance of the 2021/22 school year. 

When the revised circular on Covid leave is issued, members who have queries or who need clarification of the Medmark Review Process and/or Pregnancy Risk Assessment Process will be welcome to contact the INTO by phone, email or by submitting queries on the portal.   

Payment for work on Supplementary Programme 

The Department of Education has advised the INTO that 13,800 claims for payment have been received in relation to the Supplementary Programme, which ran from February to April 2021. 

A dedicated team has been put in place to process these claims for payment. The Department has said that this work has taken more time than anticipated due to the volume of claims involved, the complexity of the claims, the level of follow up required and difficulties in getting temporary staff to work on the project. 

The latest position is that 7,814 claims (in respect of 5,419 tutors/SNAs) were processed for payment in the 5 August payroll run. This leaves about 6,000 claims still to be paid. Every effort is now being made to ensure that all outstanding claims will be paid in the next payroll run on 19 August. The Department has stated that they regret any inconvenience which this may cause for INTO members.