Teachers and other staff will have to wear personal protective equipment (PPE) in certain circumstances, when schools re-open, amid the ongoing threat from Covid-19.
Overall, PPE will not be required to be worn within schools but a limited number of staff will need to use PPE occasionally, or constantly, due to the nature of certain activities or work areas, according to Department of Education guidelines
Examples of the circumstances in which use of PPE is envisaged include when a staff member, such as a Special Needs Assistant (SNA), is performing intimate care for a pupil or where a suspected case of Covid-19 is identified.
And while school cleaning regimes will be stepped up to minimise risk, staff will also be required to thoroughly clean and disinfect their work area before and after use each day.
The guidelines have been prepared with a focus on summer education programmes, but give an indication of what all staff, parents and pupils can expect when the new term starts at the end of August/September.
The Government is aiming to have all pupils back together when schools re-open, and the document, will be reviewed and updated summer taking account of ongoing public health advice.
Education Minister Joe McHugh has asked schools, teachers and SNAs to volunteer for summer programmes for students with special needs or those suffering severe socio-economic disadvantage, but uptake have been slow pending publication of the guidelines.
It remains to be seen whether there will be a significant increase in interest in running the programmes now that the guidelines have been published.
Mr McHugh is hoping that the number of students with special needs to benefit would double to 20,000 this year while every DEIS schools has been invited to run a programme for worst-affected pupils.
The guidelines published today cover a range of issues including procedures for returning to work, general advice to prevent the spread of the virus, control measures, dealing with suspected case of Covid-19 and staff duties.
But the initial document makes no reference to what social distancing measures may apply, which is the subject of active discussions between the Department of education and public health officials.
“The Department is continuing to engage with the Department of Health and the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) and will update this template in the coming days reflecting the advice we are receiving, in particular on the issue of physical distancing,” a letter to schools states.
Irish Primary Principals Network (IPPN) president Damian White welcomed the announcement of “clear and concise guidelines for the roll out of the summer provision programme” but said questions remain.
He said some of their questions were “entirely dependent on the advice from National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET), who in turn must judge the prevailing situation.”
Mr White said they welcomed the opportunity for school communities to be able to return to school for the roll out of summer provision. “Public health is paramount, and any restrictions remaining are for the welfare of all.”
The guidelines stipulate that the return to the work must be done safely and in strict adherence to the advice and instructions of public health authorities and the Government.
As well as the use of (PPE) in certain circumstances, schools have also been advised that hand sanitisers will be needed and while the Department is working on a centralised order, they have been asked to buy their own in the short term.
“Schools operating the summer programme will need to source these items locally. The cost of these items necessitated by the operation of the guidance will be reimbursed by the Department.” the letter states.
Under the return to work protocol, staff will be required to complete a Return to Work (RTW) 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 Induction Training prior to returning, covering areas such as the latest guidance on public health, Covid-19 symptoms, what to do if a staff member or pupil develops symptoms of Covid-19 at school.
A staff member in a very high risk group should self-declare on the Return to Work form and details of the leave arrangements that will apply will be updated by the Department of Education and Skills.
If the board of management of principal is unsure whether or not a staff member falls into the very high-risk category, advice will be sought from the Occupational Health Service. It is not envisaged that anyone considered very high risk would volunteer for Summer Provision 2020.
A major focus on infection prevention and control includes advice to schools to have handwashing facilities and/or hand sanitisers are available at multiple locations, including in each classroom.
Schools have been promised appropriate PPE for dealing with suspected Covid-19 cases, intimate care needs and for first aid and this will be updated in line with advice from the Health Protection Surveillance Centre.
While arrangements for more regular and thorough cleaning of areas and surfaces within the school are being made, staff will also be required to thoroughly clean and disinfect their work area before and after use each day.
Staff will also must use and clean their own equipment and utensils, such as cup, cutlery and plate.
For now, at least, shower facilities cannot be made available for use by staff, but this will be reviewed in line with government guidance.
Access to the schools will only be for essential purposes, such as by parents and contractors, and the principals will have to give prior approval.
The school must maintain a log of visitors as well as a log of staff and student contacts and will have to designate an isolation area, in the event that of someone displaying signs of Covid-19.