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Heads of teachers' unions blast tracing in schools as ‘shambolic’ and question safety of pupils


John Boyle of the INTO

John Boyle of the INTO

John Boyle of the INTO

The General Secretary of the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation John Boyle has said that tracking, testing and surveillance of Covid-19 in primary schools has been “shambolic”.

Mr Boyle said that he “cannot be convinced” by Micheál Martin’s comments that children will be returning to safe schools after Halloween.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Mr Boyle said: “I cannot be convinced by Micheál Martin’s comments last night that children will be returning after Halloween to safe schools. It is of course vital that childrens’ education continue, but it is even more vital to their families that they remain safe.

“Will parents put their children on the bus? Will teachers who are pregnant or have underlying health conditions, will doctors allow them to go back to classrooms where the virus is so high in their community that Dr Colm Henry said that it poses a great threat to schools a few days ago?

“The government has eight of nine days now to convince me and to convince everyone in national education and special schools that the shambolic approach of public health to the tracking, testing and the surveillance of our sector is going to be sorted out before the first Monday in November,” Mr Boyle said.

Mr Boyle said he did not know how many teachers and pupils had been infected and people had been “left stressed to the gills” while waiting for contact tracing to be done. Mr Boyle said some schools are waiting up to two weeks for this to be done.

“In that school that is waiting for the contact tracing to be done; you have up to 60 people stressed to the gills because nobody knows anything about who was infected, who was in contact with them or for how long.

“I stand over my comments that it has been shambolic to date. There will be respite though as schools are closed next week and thankfully Nphet are meeting us today. I am prepared to work for the next nine days solid to ensure that schools are safe but we need public health to step up to the plate,” Mr Boyle insisted.

General Secretary of the Association of Secondary Schools Ireland Kieran Christie echoed Mr Boyle’s sentiment and branded the delay in contact tracing as “simply unacceptable”.

Mr Christie said that the “laxity” around contact tracing has been “very worrying and very concerning.”

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“We have lots of anecdotal evidence of delays on tracing of cases of Covid-19 in schools. It is simply unacceptable. For weeks and weeks now we have been told that the priority is to keep schools open but the laxity around contact tracing in schools has been very worrying and very concerning.

“What we are seeing on the ground in relation to tracing is at variance from what we are hearing in the public pronouncements. We requested a meeting with the HPSC a number of weeks ago but it was denied. We are only getting that meeting now,” he said.

Mr Christie admitted the ASTI is balloting its members on whether or not they are in favour of industrial action should the need arise and said: “ We have been consistent that we want schools open and we want them open safely. We need to be convinced [of that safety] and the evidence that has been provided to us has been sparse and sketchy thus far.”

Mr Christie said teachers will need “agility” should things deteriorate and said that industrial action will only be used as a “last resort”.

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