Post-primary teacher union leaders said they could not put a date on when all schools will be able to open fully to all pupils.
Their comments at a meeting of the Oireachtas Covid- 19 committee strengthens doubts about the hopes for a full-return to schools in late August/September.
The key issue will be the social distancing requirements forced by Covid-19 that are in place at the time and how they impact on the day-to-day school operations.
Health Protection Surveillance Centre ( HPSC) guidance for schools published yesterday said there was no need for distancing for pupils up to and including those in second class primary, and that a minimum one metre should apply in classes where pupils are over that stage.
The Government is hoping for a full return for all schools at the start of the new academic year, but applying a one metre rule would make it difficult for some to have all their pupils back in the classroom together.
The general standard in society at the moment is a two metre separation although that has been reduced to one metre for the hospitality industry.
Teachers Union of Ireland (TUI) general secretary John McGabhann told Sinn Fein’s Donnchadh O’Laoghaire that he could not answer as to when a full return would happen.
Mr MacGabhann said they would engage with the Department of Educaton and other education partners “ to ensure it can happen as safely as possible but it has to be done in a manner that guarantees safety for children, for parents and , I say without apology, for our members.”
Association of Secondary Teachers’ Ireland (ASTI) general secretary Kieran Christie said he could not predict when a full return would be possible because there were too many variables that they did not control, the key one of which was social distancing.
He said the ASTI view was that the public health advice published yesterday was “such that many schools will not be fit to go back on full time basis for all students.” He said they would be back on a restricted basis.
The recommendation that no social distancing is needed for half of primary classes - up to second class- supports a fuller return at the normal time in that sector, but the one metre rule for older pupils may present challenges in some schools.
Irish National Teacher’s Organisation (INTO) general secretary John Boyle said they had particular issue for third to sixth classes, and “ no matter what way you do maths” it can be difficult to accommodate large classes.
Mr Boyle said he was worried about what would happen after schools re-opened in situations such as where a teacher was absent and , where in other circumstances pupils would be split into other classes
“Supports to schools must ensure that no class needs to be divided in circumstances of teacher absence,” he said.