Principals and teachers want more help from public health teams to tackle the Covid crisis in primary schools.
While welcoming the planned antigen testing programme, due to start on Monday, November 29, they say it does not offer the level of support from health professionals that school communities need.
Under the plan, parents are being asked to tell the school if their child has tested positive for Covid and principals will then advise parents of children who are close contacts, either in the pod or class.
Parents of close contacts have the option of ordering free antigen tests for their child and are asked to conduct three tests over five days. The child may remain in school unless they develop symptoms or test positive.
Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO) general secretary John Boyle described it as “an improvement on what we have at the moment, but there is a long way to go”.
He said they would work with the department, “but we need more help from public health. We need the proper contact tracing system that served us so well last year to be reinstated”.
Mr Boyle said it was a crisis situation, with 9,000 primary pupils off sick with Covid and possibly up to 13,000 or 14,000 more who were asymptomatic, based on Nphet’s assumption that for every four symptomatic positive adults there are six asymptomatic cases.
The Irish Primary Principals’ Network (IPPN) said the “overarching difficulty with the management of Covid cases in our schools is that the public health voice is still missing from the equation”. The representative body for principals added that schools should have access to public health advice at the earliest possible juncture, when Covid cases are identified.
“This would inform the actions to be taken and better ensure the health and safety of our school communities,” IPPN chief executive Páiric Clerkin said.
In the absence of public health input, the IPPN said there was a burden of responsibility on parents if the antigen testing measure was to work effectively.
Meanwhile, third-level students who miss their end-of-term exams for Covid-related reasons will be able to avail of an alternative assessment.
Colleges are putting in place arrangements that take account of the latest Government guidance that asks asymptomatic household close contacts to restrict movements for five days.
As well as students who test positive or have symptoms, who are expected to stay at home, the five-day rule for asymptomatic close contacts is likely to have an impact on exam attendance.
The issue of exam flexibility was discussed at a meeting yesterday between Further and Higher Education Minister Simon Harris and representatives of higher education institutions, their staff and students.
Exam arrangements vary between colleges, ranging from in-person assessments to a mix of in-person and online exams.
In an email to students yesterday, Trinity College Dublin said “anybody who is affected by Covid, and is therefore unable to take exams, can take those exams quickly later in December or early in the new year.”
At University College Dublin, staff and students have been told that existing arrangements for online and in-person exams remain in place, with an alternative for those who cannot participate.