Secondary schools in Dublin are facing a "chronic shortage of teachers" in the coming months due to delayed retirements, at-risk staff needing time off and young teachers choosing to work in rural areas.
Unions speaking at the Covid-19 response committee yesterday painted a bleak picture as schools reopen.
The committee met to hear input from teachers and parents about how the return is operating on the ground, and some significant issues were raised.
The Teachers' Union of Ireland (Tui) said schools in cities will be hit hardest by staff shortages.
While the Government's road map to reopening allocated 1,080 post-primary staff to schools, unions said this will not be enough.
"It only works out as roughly one teacher for each school," said Ann Piggott, vice president of the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (Asti).
The Department of Education previously stated it would be making contact with 6,000 teachers registered with the Teaching Council who are currently not active.
However, the committee heard this number was "exaggerated" as it includes many young teachers who went abroad to teach and kept up their registration here.
John Boyle, general secretary of the Irish National Teachers' Organisation (Into), said younger teachers are choosing to work in rural areas where there is a lower cost of living.
Anecdotal evidence showed there have been very few applicants for jobs in urban areas, and this is likely to be made worse in the context of illnesses and retirements.
The committee also heard how a "large number of teachers are expecting babies" and are very concerned about returning to the workplace.
Mr Boyle claimed some fem-ale teachers who are pregnant are being advised by their GPs not to return to school.
This is despite HSE advice stating that evidence gathered so far shows "pregnant women are not at risk".
"We don't fully know how it affects pregnant women and their babies," the advice on the agency's website states.
Meanwhile, Tui general secretary Michael Gillespie said there is a serious lack of teachers for subjects including languages and science.
"In a month we'll have delayed retirements hitting the system. We believe there will be a chronic shortage of teachers. Most of these will be in urban areas, in particular Dublin," he said.
Education Minister Norma Foley appeared before the committee for the first time since being appointed.
In response to various quer-ies from TDs, she confirmed that priority testing will be available for schools, but only in the event of an outbreak.
She said a total of 547 out of 750 teachers who applied for a risk assessment have so far been declared very high-risk. The assessments have been carried out by Medmark on behalf of the Department of Education.
"In a case bordering between high risk and very high risk, they will err on the side of caution," Ms Foley said.
In her opening statement, she said "it is important to note the response to confirmed cases or outbreaks of Covid-19 in a school is the responsibility of, and will be led and managed by, public health HSE".
She said all decisions on appropriate actions following a confirmed case or outbreak will be made by public health officials. It will not be up to individual schools to decide if a closure is necessary.
Ms Foley also said it will be "quite a logistical challenge" to provide transport for secondary school students, with buses set to run at 50pc capacity following advice from the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet).
She said there would be a requirement for an "additional 1,600 buses and drivers", and funding was being put in place to make that possible. However, no timeline was provided.
She said the Department was not responsible for private transport services.