The Education Minister has come under fire from unions and opposition parties, over what's been described as the "alarming" situation facing unvaccinated pregnant teachers and SNAs.
Pregnant teachers will return to classrooms for the new school year.
However, pregnant women aren’t advised to get a COVID-19 vaccine until the 14th week of pregnancy - meaning some teachers in the early stages of pregnancy won’t have had an opportunity to get vaccinated yet.
Minister Norma Foley has insisted her department has been “very cautious” on this particular issue.
She said the expert recommendation is that pregnant staff can return to school, but that any staff members with “particular concerns” can take pregnancy-related sick leave.
In a joint statement, the three main teachers’ unions condemned what they called “the failure to protect staff in early pregnancy”.
The ASTI, TUI and INTO said all pregnant teachers were allowed to work from home last term, but it’s “incredible” that they’re now expected to return to classrooms.
They said: “We condemn the failure of the Minister for Education and the Department of Education to provide alternative time-bound working arrangements for teachers who have been ineligible to receive vaccines.
“To cause a group of pregnant workers to endure weeks of anxiety and fear is unconscionable.
“We reiterate today our call for swift action to be taken to permit these workers to work from home and support pupils remotely, until such time as they achieve significant vaccine protection.”
Labour’s education spokesperson Aodhán Ó Ríordáin said he was “deeply frustrated” by media comments by Minister Foley.
He suggested there “are still no real solutions offered for pregnant staff”.
Sinn Féin’s Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire, meanwhile, accused the minister of being “incoherent” on the issue.
He said: “She advised of the pregnancy-related sick leave scheme, but these women are not sick, they are pregnant.
"This scheme was not designed for this purpose, it is for women who fall sick while pregnant.
“Many staff were listening and in this situation, will be reluctant to use this scheme given that ordinarily there could be disciplinary issues with using the scheme for a purpose that was not intended.”
He argued that “flexibility and understanding must be shown” for those staff members who are under 14 weeks pregnant.
The Sinn Féin TD added that he’s spoken to many teachers and SNAs who can’t understand why flexible working arrangements were “bluntly removed with very little consideration given to their worries and vulnerability”.