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Covid-19 Ireland: Government recommends facemasks for when schools reopen

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A school pupil wearing a face mask on a bus (Owen Humphreys/PA)

A school pupil wearing a face mask on a bus (Owen Humphreys/PA)

A school pupil wearing a face mask on a bus (Owen Humphreys/PA)

Primary and post-primary teachers and students in post-primary schools will be expected to wear face masks if they cannot maintain a two metre distance when schools re-open.

However, masks are not being advised for pupils in primary schools, under updated guidance from the Department of Education.

Special Needs Assistants (SNAs) will also be required to wear face coverings, or in certain situations clear visors, in the classroom.

Other staff, such as bus escorts who have close contact with students, will be required to wear face coverings, and all staff and students using the post-primary school transport service will be required to wear face coverings on the bus.

It is a departure from previous guidelines, which did not recommend the routine covering of students or teachers’ faces as a protection mechanism around the transmission of Covid-19 in schools.

However, Education Minister Norma Foley said today that she had been working with the public health authorities to ensure that the advice underpinning the safe reopening of schools was fully up to date.

She said the recommendations on face coverings had been updated to reflect the latest research and expertise.

Teacher unions had lobbied for the use of face coverings in schools.

Reusable face coverings are being recommended, with the advice that they are washed daily.

The assumption is that teachers and pupils will provide their own masks and that schools will have back-up supplies.

Earlier this week, it was announced that students in third-level colleges who could not maintain a two metre distance in in lectures should wear masks.

The advice on face coverings in schools also brings the sector into line with recent Government policy decisions on the use of facemasks on public transport and in other enclosed settings.

The latest advice from the Department of Education builds on the Government’s school re-opening plan, supported by a financial package of over €375m.

Additional measures announced today include a special grant to schools to cover the cost of personal protective equipment for the term to Christmas. Primary schools will receive €25 per pupil, second-level schools will receive €40 per pupil and their will be a €100 grant for pupils in special classes.

Other issues covered in today’s include measure to increase the supply of teachers at both primary and post-primary level, including offering additional hours to the 2,800 teachers who are working part-time in post-primary schools, allowing job-sharing teachers to work additional hours and making it more attractive for teachers on career break to provide substitution and supervision cover.

The Teaching Council is also working on a range of measures to increase the supply of registered teachers who may be available to fill posts to support the re-opening of schools for the 2020/21 academic term, including making contact with the 6,000 registered teachers who are not currently active in schools.

Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO) General Secretary John Boyle welcomed the announcement that primary teachers who were unable to maintain two metres social distancing in their classrooms were advised to wear face masks or visors as appropriate.

“Schools will have the option of ordering face coverings centrally on the newly established government procurement portal,” he said.

Association of Secondary Teachers’ Ireland (ASTI) General Secretary Kieran Christie also welcomed today’s developments and said schools were “working hard to implement the necessary safety arrangements in time for re-opening." Keeping schools open must be the priority, and this means minimising the risk of transmission within classrooms and other learning environments.

The Teachers' Union of Ireland (TUI) also welcomed the updated guidance on wearing face coverings in schools.

”The Union had discussed with the Department and the partners the evolving scientific view in regard to face coverings and the growing acceptance across society that this is a prudent protective measure,”said TUI President Martin Marjoram.


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