Michéal Martin T.D.,
Roinn An Taoisigh,
Merrion Street Upper,
A Thaoisigh, a chara,
I write to follow up on a letter below, which I sent on August 4 to Minister Foley and copied to Minister Donnelly and to Mr. Sean O Foghlú, Secretary General An Roinn Oideachais.
INTO representatives attending stakeholder consultation meetings and I have endeavoured to progress the issues raised by me in the August 4 letter on a number of occasions since then.
I am now very concerned a few days prior to primary and special schools reopening, that we still have not received clarity on a number of the issues raised by us nearly three weeks ago.
I understand that approximately seven hundred Irish children aged 14 and under have contracted Covid-19, that one hundred of these positive tests were in the last fortnight and that the overall rate of infection in Ireland has doubled in a ten day period recently.
Naturally this is extremely worrying as 600,000 pupils and education staff together with thousands of parents and guardians prepare for the return to primary and special schools within the next week.
The INTO has worked very constructively with the Department of Education and all other key stakeholders towards the safe orderly reopening of our schools. In our view the outstanding clarifications are absolutely necessary to ensure that everyone can continue to follow the roadmap into September and beyond.
Although revised expert Irish public health advice on the wearing of face-coverings and on school transport has issued recently we are still concerned that the proposed changes may not have the desired effect in primary and special schools. The approach proposed in these schools is significantly different to that being recommended for students travelling to and from and attending post-primary schools.
It appears likely that clarity on the step by step approach to be taken in the event of a member of a school community testing positive for Covid-19 will issue shortly and if so, this will be very welcome.
In our view it is now essential that the long-promised full review of HPSC guidance for schools be finalised and published in advance of schools reopening.
We were informed at the stakeholder consultation meeting last Tuesday 18 August that discussions on testing and tracing for those in the education sector had been taking place between the Departments of Education and Health.
The Irish Times reported on Friday that you had ruled out serial testing of students and staff in schools. I was deeply concerned reading that report.
The following day the same paper reported that:
“The issue of a testing strategy for children (was to have been) discussed at NPHET last Thursday 20th and is currently under development.”
We believe that it is now incumbent on your government to announce immediately that priority testing will be made available to any asymptomatic teacher in a primary or special school who requests it. Furthermore we believe that it is imperative for the protection of 42,000 members represented by our union, that government commits to the establishment of a surveillance system and a rapid, repeated testing and tracing regime which will be rolled out from the beginning of September.
I request a meeting with you and your officials about this urgent matter this week.
Is mise, le meas,
INTO General Secretary