There may be no social-distancing rule for young pupils and some children with special educational needs when they return to school in September, Education Minister Joe McHugh has indicated.
Details of the distancing protocols to apply in the new term will depend on evolving public health advice, but the minister sent a signal yesterday as he outlined details for arrangements for the summer education programmes.
In relation to the programme for children with special needs, he told the Dáil there would be no physical distancing for pupils, because it would be neither "practical nor possible".
And looking ahead to September, Mr McHugh said physical distancing may not be practical for young children and some with special needs.
So far, 200 schools have signed up to run a summer programme, but the Department of Education hopes more will volunteer.
The target is to double the number of children benefiting, to 20,000, to help compensate for the missed months at school. To date, a total of 12,600 children have registered, including 9,200 seeking a home-based programme.
Deis schools serving disadvantaged communities have also been asked to run summer camps for the most severely affected pupils and Mr McHugh said because of the limited numbers involved, physical distancing should be maintained for these. To date, 224 schools have offered.
Some schools are apprehensive about volunteering to run a summer programme and have been awaiting guidelines.
Formal guidance on physical distancing for the summer programme will be issued to education partners, including representatives of teachers, principals, school managers and parents, today.
It follows guidelines earlier this week covering other matters such as return-to-work procedures, advice to prevent the spread of the virus and dealing with a suspected case of Covid-19.
While prepared to assist schools in relation to the summer programmes, it gives an indication of what to expect when the new term starts at the end of August/start of September.
Areas covered include the use of personal protective equipment (PPE). While PPE will not be required to be worn routinely, a limited number of staff will need to use it due to the nature of certain activities or work areas.
Examples of the circumstances in which PPE use is envisaged include when a staff member is performing intimate care for a pupil or where a case of Covid-19 is suspected.
Cleaning regimes are being stepped up to minimise risk, but staff will also be required to thoroughly clean and disinfect their work area before and after use each day.
Staff will have to complete a Return to Work form at least three days prior to any return confirming that, to the best of their knowledge, they have no symptoms of Covid-19, are not self-isolating or cocooning or awaiting the results of a Covid-19 test. All staff will undertake Covid-19 training prior to returning.
A staff member in a very high-risk group should self-declare and details of the leave arrangements that will apply will be updated by the Department of Education.
If the board of management or principal is unsure whether or not a staff member falls into this category, advice will be sought. It is not envisaged that anyone considered very high-risk would volunteer for the summer programmes.
A major focus on infection prevention and control includes advice to have hand-washing facilities and/or hand sanitisers available at multiple locations, including all classrooms.
Access to a school will only be for essential purposes and with the principal's prior approval. The school must maintain a log of visitors and one for staff and student contacts.