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INTO wants schools to stay closed until January 11 at earliest


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Primary teachers’ union, the INTO, wants the Government to delay the re-opening of schools after the Christmas holiday.

The union has said schools should remain shut until Monday, January 11 at the earliest because of the “alarming increase” in Covid cases.

INTO general secretary, John Boyle, sent a letter on the issue to Minister for Education Norma Foley this evening and wants it discussed at tomorrow’s Cabinet meeting.

He said he believed education partners, such as teacher unions and school managers, would support changed arrangements on public health grounds in the interest of securing safer schools for pupils, staff and their families.

Mr Boyle said the INTO remained strongly committed to supporting its 42,000 members in safe workplaces, as they endeavoured to teach and support the wellbeing of pupils at school.

“However, it is now becoming very clear that the ability of schools to operate normally is likely to be seriously impaired due to the higher numbers of staff and students who will need to self-isolate and/or restrict movement in the weeks following Christmas.”

The general secretary said a number of issues must be borne in mind by the Government when making an informed judgement regarding the most appropriate date for reopening schools next month.

These included:

  • The number of positive cases identified as a result of mass-testing in schools increased steadily this month.
  • That the number of confirmed cases had grown at “an alarming rate” in the last fortnight with nearly 700 children of primary school age testing positive in the 24 days prior to schools closing for the Christmas holidays.
  • That the new strain of Covid-19, which reportedly is 70pc more transmissible and may present an increased risk among children, has now been identified in Ireland.
  • The recent tripling of the number of referrals for Covid-19 testing in Ireland with GPs reporting a 65pc increase in referrals in the last week.
  • A larger number of people hospitalised due to Covid-19 than at any time since mid-May.
  • An acute shortage of substitute teachers in certain parts of the country.

“That an extension of the school closures until the end of next week would give school boards of management (BOMs) time to put enhanced measures in place prior to the beginning of term.

“Our measured proposal to delay the commencement of the Spring term by a minimum of three school days is designed to minimise disruption to pupils and their families, while providing schools with much needed time to put enhanced safety measures and supports in place,” Mr Boyle said.

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“The extra time would also provide government with the opportunity to launch an intensive public awareness campaign on the importance of safe schools, which was promised to this union at recent stakeholder consultation meetings.”

He suggested that the Government would also “be better placed late next week to take account of emerging scientific evidence regarding the new variants of Covid-19 than you possibly could be within the next seven days.”

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