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‘Anxious’ teachers fear how new virus variant will now spread as reopening of schools delayed


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Teachers’ unions have welcomed the delayed opening of schools, saying that while opening the doors was the preferred option, public safety is the priority.

The Government last night confirmed an extension to the school Christmas holidays, with pupils now due back on Monday January 11, instead of the previous Wednesday.

Michael Gillespie, general secretary of the Teachers Union of Ireland (TUI) said while the union had wanted schools to open up as normal after Christmas, that was only ever going to be possible “if it was safe”.

“Our members are very anxious, we are in schools and colleges with students from 13 to 18 years of age.

“From September to Christmas, we stayed ahead of the curve. The advice was showing schools weren’t spreading the disease.

“However, we don’t know how the new variant will spread in schools. We have young adults in schools and thus the Government is wise to assess schools.

“We got lucky in October with the mid-term break. The contact tracing at the time was overwhelmed. We looked like we were approaching that same point now, with the numbers going up.

“The Government is buying time to assess what’s going on, we hope they assess the situation based on the rising numbers and the incidence of this new variant and we will, as always, follow the public health advice.”

The Irish National Teachers Organisation (INTO) had called for the reopening to be postponed until January 11 at the earliest, because of the “alarming increase” in cases.

Union general secretary John Boyle said: “We welcome the swift movement by the Government to delay the reopening of our primary and special schools.

“As we set out yesterday, the alarming public health data and concerns expressed in respect of the new Covid-19 variation warrant this approach.

“We will seek to work constructively with the Department of Education and Nphet to ensure our schools reopen next month and have the necessary support and protection to stay open safely.”

Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) general secretary Kieran Christie said “serious consideration must be given to whether safety measures were now sufficient given the emergence of the new strain.”

The ASTI has already asked Education Minister Norma Foley to consult Nphet with regard to the implications of the new variant for schools.

Meanwhile, principal at Owenabue Educate Together in Cork, Catriona Golden, told how the first closure had ­created difficulties for pupils.

Having initially worked as a principal in Ennis at the beginning of the pandemic, Ms Golden recalled how the first closure was “extremely challenging” for students.

Ms Golden said: “I have a good level of faith in Nphet and their recommendations, but if the recommendation is that schools should close for a couple of days, what’s being put in place with that so that we’re not in the same situation in three or four weeks’ time?

“If the recommendation is that schools should stay open, then what are those enhanced measures to make it safer?”

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