The primary teachers’ union says school staff must be on the priority list for a Covid-19 vaccine when they become available.
The Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO) will make its case for special treatment for teachers and their colleagues to the Oireachtas Education Committee today.
There is growing optimism about the availability of vaccines early in the New Year, but initial supplies are expected to be limited and will be targeted.
The Government has not announced its strategy for a vaccination programme but it is expected that healthcare workers and people in vulnerable groups, such as the elderly, will be first in line.
While the rate of Covid transmission in schools is low, vaccinating staff would be a step-change in terms of protection.
INTO general secretary John Boyle will tell the committee today that the union is insisting that when the vaccine becomes available, all those who work in schools be prioritised.
The committee has invited INTO and the two other teaching unions, ASTI and TUI, as well as Forsa, which also represents school staff, to a hearing to discuss the impact of Covid-19 on education.
Schools are approaching the end of the third week since their return after the mid-term break, when extra measures were introduced to beef up the public health response to a confirmed Covid case in the school community.
It followed strong criticism in the run-up to mid-term about delays in the service, which were causing severe disruption to school life.
Mr Boyle will tell the committee that issues are being dealt with more efficiently and effectively, but that there are still gaps in the support of schools at weekends and for principals along the border, where he says there is a “disconnect” between the HSE and its Northern Ireland counterpart, the HSC.
Meanwhile, the Department of Education insisted again yesterday that there is no question of schools closing early for Christmas, unless public health advice changes.
“There are no plans to alter the school break at Christmas,” a spokesperson said.
The Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) called for serious consideration to be given to bringing forward the holidays, saying it would be a morale booster and would allow a longer lead-in time for pupils and teachers to restrict movements before potentially meeting elderly or vulnerable relatives at Christmas.
Labour leader Alan Kelly raised the matter with Taoiseach Micheál Martin in the Dáil, asking that proposal be considered by Government, but the Taoiseach replied: “The minister has given her position.”
The National Parents’ Council – Post Primary (NPCPP) is against the idea.
NPCPP president Mai Fanning said it was important to retain as much normality as possible for students.
“We must remember that coming up to Christmas is an important time for children in school. The season brings a lot, the camaraderie of the school community, getting into the Christmas spirit.”
Ms Fanning said seeing out the full term was also very important for exam classes, particularly the Leaving Cert class of 2021.
She said 6th year pupils would be “heading into the mocks very shortly after Christmas, so in the lead up to Christmas it is important that they get as much time in class with teachers as they possibly can”.
The NPCPP president said she also thought teachers would want that because they were also looking at how they could cover the curriculum after the disruption caused by the lockdown in the spring.