Primary school pupils will only be able to return to school part-time in autumn if current social distancing and other public health restrictions are in place, teachers and school managers warn.
After months of closure, with parents struggling to keep learning going at home and children feeling the loss of school, it is a bleak scenario.
But key education stakeholders raised the spectre of schools reopening with reduced numbers at any one time, and individual pupils returning on a half day, day on/off, half week on/half week off or week on/week off basis.
The gloomy picture emerges in separate documents prepared by the Irish National Teachers' Organisation (INTO) and the Catholic Primary School Management Association (CPSMA) for contingency planning discussions around reopening of the education system.
Those talks kicked off for the primary sector - which has 3,200 schools and more than 600,000 pupils, teachers and other staff - this week.
The focus for the post-primary sector has been the radical move to calculated grades in place of the Leaving Cert, but discussions on arrangements for reopening the 730 schools involved start next week.
At primary level, the INTO and CPSMA have drawn up formidable checklists outlining issues to be considered.
The CPSMA said in the absence of a vaccine for Covid-19, preparing for a return to school in autumn will be complex, challenging and costly.
It advised "it may be prudent to prepare for a phased return, and a rolling cycle of attendance - either by time, day or weekly - to manage the numbers in a school at any given time".
If a full school reopening is not possible, the CPSMA, which represents management in about 90pc of primary schools, said the Department of Education must develop a structured distance-learning plan for all schools.
The INTO said its entire membership is "up for the challenge of restarting", but wants firm assurances schools are not reopened prematurely and potentially face a second period of closure.
There is "huge concern" among its members about the difficulties in maintaining physical distancing in a primary or special school setting, when compared with shops, factories and other workplaces.
This is especially the case among younger children, including those starting school and some children with special educational needs.
The union shares the CPSMA view on capacity and warned "given the current guidance of physical distancing, it will be necessary in almost all schools to reduce the number of children attending at one time".
If a school cannot provide a safe environment, the INTO said it must remain closed and continue to support pupils learning at home.
The two documents addressed all aspects of life in the country's primary schools, big and small. They want account taken in advance of the return of personal hygiene and school cleaning, minimum distances between desks, any need for personal protective equipment (PPE), as well as support for pupil and teacher wellbeing.
Issues such as staff who may be unable to return because they are in a vulnerable category should also be accounted for. Additional funding will be required to provide the extra resources and supports required across a range of headings, they said.
Among the prerequisites to reopening sought by the CPSMA are a risk assessment in each school covering a range of areas from how many pupils could be accommodated in each classroom to cleaning procedures, hot water requirements and hand sanitisers.
Advance measures required by the INTO include a comprehensive testing and contact tracing system, with priority access to testing for teachers as part of a community testing programme. Once a school is open, the union proposes a system of self-declaration by staff and parents that, to the best of their knowledge they, or there children, have no symptoms of Covid-19, are not in self-isolation or awaiting the outcome of a test.