Covid-19: Operational matters in schools

Controlling the spread of infection

In a letter to schools dated 31 August 2022, the DE stated:

The Department of Health and the office of the Chief Medical Officer have advised that there are no new requirements in respect of managing COVID-19.
The key messages are as follows:

  • Stay at home if you are unwell. The best way to keep all viruses out of school is to stay at home if you are unwell and until your symptoms have substantially resolved for 48 hours.
  • Maintain a good standard of hand hygiene
  • Adhere to good respiratory etiquette
  • Ensure good ventilation arrangements
  • Continue to maintain good levels of cleaning

In accordance with the Transitional Protocol – Good Practice Guidance for Continuing to Prevent the Spread of COVID-19 each workplace should continue to maintain and update their COVID-19 Response Plan to take account of the changed public health advice.
The Department is currently revising the template COVID-19 Response Plan and this will issue to schools shortly.
As per Information Note SD 0003/2022, from 28 February 2022, there is no longer a requirement for staff or pupils to wear a face covering or mask in school.
Current public health advice advises that a high-quality face mask should be worn for days 8 – 10 following a positive COVID-19 test, after the required period of self-isolation has ended.
Yes, staff or pupils may continue to wear face coverings or masks if they wish to do so on a personal basis.
Schools should continue to make masks available to staff on request, and funding to support the purchase of PPE is available to schools during Term 1.
Any teacher who requires an FFP2 mask should request one from their Board. Schools can use COVID-19 funding for the purchasing of this type of face mask.
The DE has advised that COVID-19 grants to cover enhanced cleaning and PPE during Term 1 will be paid to schools shortly. The rate of payment in respect of these grants will remain the same as last year. The cleaning and PPE grants are being combined into one grant to allow for greater flexibility at a school level between cleaning and any PPE requirements.
There is no requirement to wear masks but masks should continue to be provided to any staff or students who wish to wear them.
There is no change to the Department’s guidance on ventilation that was last updated in 2021, details here.
As the new school year commences it is good practice to check that the ventilation systems and CO2 monitors are working correctly in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions, likewise with any air cleaners ensuring adherence to the filter cleaning and maintenance regime recommended by the manufacturer.

Teachers’ leave and substitute cover

Family Illness Leave will only have substitute cover from the second day on, when a teacher takes more than one day consecutively. (E.g. three days of Family Illness Leave are taken, there will be substitute cover on the second and third days.) Self-certified sick leave generally does not have substitute cover.
There are two exceptions:

  • A school with two or fewer mainstream teachers may employ a substitute for Self-certified sick leave, and
  • If two or more teachers are out on self-certified sick leave, substitute cover is available from the second teacher on.

No, the additional substitute cover which was available for brief absences during the pandemic has been withdrawn under circular 38/2022.
In general, Parental Leave must be taken in full seven-day blocks.
Parental Leave may be requested in single days where the relevant child is attending ongoing medical, clinical, or therapeutic appointments. The employer should retain evidence of the appointments in question.
In the 2020/21 and 2021/22 school years, the Department advised that if a teacher was unable to use all the EPV days they had earned, these days could be carried forward to the following school year.
The Department of Education has confirmed teachers with accumulated unused EPV days may also avail of these EPV days in the 2022/23 school year.
This includes EPV days which were already carried forward from the 2020/21 and 2021/22 school years but weren’t used during the 2021/22 school year, subject to a maximum of five EPV days being available to any teacher in any given school year.
The provision to carry forward any accumulated untaken EPV days in to future school years will cease at the end of this school year, and the normal terms of Circular 0037/1997 will apply going forward.
Substitute cover for EPV days has been withdrawn for 2022/23.

The school day

Under the Organisation of Working Time Act, employees are entitled to a fifteen-minute break during the first six hours of their working day. The current health crisis does not remove this entitlement, and employers should ensure that their supervision rotas provide for adequate break times for staff.
The school day circular, 11/1995, provides for forty minutes of breaks/recreation for pupils during the school day, but teachers’ duty of care to their pupils extends through that time, and teachers are not entitled to the entirety of this time as a break.
The contracted working day for a primary teacher is five hours and forty minutes.
Recognising the unprecedented circumstances, some teachers may have agreed to undertake additional supervision duties before or after school on a goodwill basis, following consultation between staff and management.
Staff should raise this matter with their employer at their earliest opportunity.
Following the publication of information note SD 03/2022 physical distancing measures, including discrete class pods and bubbles, are no longer required as a public health measure.
It’s the responsibility of the employer to ensure that there is adequate supervision at all times, and what constitutes adequate supervision may vary from school to school.
Teachers should seek to review the staggered breaks with their school if they are still in operation.

Still have questions?

Submit your query by email to INTO. Please include your payroll or membership number.