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Government in U-turn on plans for Leaving Cert students and special schools to return next week

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The Government has been forced into a U-turn on plans to allow Leaving Cert students return to school next week.

Leaving Cert Students will now study remotely along with all other pupils until January 31. The issue will then be reviewed.

Plans to reopen special schools next week are also to be cancelled.

The move comes after the Association of Secondary Teachers in Ireland instructed members not to attend classes next week.

The ASTI had instructed its members not to cooperate with government plans to reopen schools for in-person teaching for Leaving Cert students next Monday,

The union says it will only engage in remote teaching from next Monday and has said the decision is based on concerns around health and safety.

This follows an emergency meeting of the ASTI today to discuss plans to reopen schools on Monday with Leaving cert students expected to be in classes for three days every week.

Speaking after the meeting, ASTI President Ann Piggott said: “The ASTI has repeatedly sought sufficient assurances that schools are safe for students and teachers at this time, in the context of the new variant of Covid-19 circulating in the community and the alarmingly high numbers.

“We engaged with the Department of Education and with public health officials today. Unfortunately, the assurances we sought have not been forthcoming.”

The Irish National Teachers' Organisation (INTO) said it didn’t want to have to oppose the partial reopening of special schools and classes "but we must be able to work together to respond appropriately to the public health challenges we face.".

The union said "consultation and engagement were "everything".

It added that its members "will seek to support their students from Monday with passion and determination.”

Education Minister Norma Foley confirmed schools would be closed for all classes from Monday.

“It is with regret that I announce that, despite the confirmation by Public Health that schools remain safe, that children in special schools and special classes and Leaving Certificate students will not be extended in-person learning,” said Minister Foley.

“My Department has engaged with the unions and public health officials with a view to maintaining on site learning for this vulnerable group of students.

“It remains my strong belief that this period of time is crucial for the mental wellbeing of all children with special needs.

“I also felt it was the right thing to extend in-class teaching to our Leaving Certificate students who are approaching a crucial time in their exam year.

“Unfortunately I am left with no alternative but to pause the limited reopening on Monday to allow further engagement with all education stakeholders.”

The plan to allow Leaving Cert students attend school three days a week had been met with widespread opposition from teachers, parents, pupils and special needs assistants.

Secondary school principals pleaded with the Government to reverse its decision on the partial reopening of schools as they have “grave concerns” over the safety of staff and students.

Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan advised the Government that the full reopening of schools would “constitute a very significant additional risk” as the country battles with an unprecedented level of Covid-19 transmission in the community.

In a letter to Health Minister Stephen Donnelly, dated January 5, Dr Holohan noted that data received by the National Public Health Emergency Team shows schools are a “safe environment”.

However, given the current epidemiological situation, “significant levels of mobility and linked activity” generated by the reopening of schools would pose too risky, he said.


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