All primary pupils and fifth year students will return to school next Monday, the Department of Education confirmed.
A letter has gone to schools principals today stating that the next stage of the phased re-opening can continue as planned.
Half primary classes as well as Leaving Cert students went back last Monday while around 100,000 children returned to preschool today under the Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) scheme.
The gradual roll out of the re-opening strategy depends on the public health landscape, which is being closely monitored to see whether the earlier phases led to higher Covid transmission rates.
Today’s letter to principals stated that the Department of Health and the HSE “have reaffirmed that the gradual phased reopening can proceed as planned.
“Public health has reviewed the measures put in place to ensure safe operation of schools and is satisfied that these infection prevention and control measures, if rigorously adhered to, will keep the school community safe during this period.”
The letter emphasis that all infection prevention and control measures must be followed carefully by pupils, staff and parents.
The letter reminds principals that all unnecessary travel should be avoided, and that in the interests of minimising the spread of Covid, schools must make every effort to avoid organising events that could lead to the congregation of pupils.
Schools are also asked to remind parents and pupils not to congregate in school grounds/at school gates.
As schools prepare for the wider return next Monday, pregnant staff have been told that they can continue to work from home.
A temporary arrangement allowing pregnant teachers and special needs assistants (SNAs) to work remotely for the initial phases – up to the March 15 - has been extended.
The Department of Education has confirmed to schools that they should continue to work remotely pending clarification on the issue of a possible link between Covid and stillbirths.
However, teachers aged over 60 and those in the high-risk category who have also been facilitated to work from home during the initial phases of re-opening, must return to school next Monday.
The Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO) has also asked that he question of mask wearing by pupils in senior primary be kept under review.
Last week, the Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) reiterated that a compulsory face mask policy is not recommended in primary schools, however the INTO believes it would help to reduce the risk of infection.
Schools will close for Easter holidays on Friday March 26, and when they re-open on April 12, the final group of pupils to return, second level students from first year to fourth year, are due back.