The head of the Association of Secondary Teachers in Ireland (ASTI) says she is hopeful Leaving Certificate students can return to classrooms before St Patrick's Day.
Ann Piggott was speaking after the Government confirmed that special classes will return in secondary schools in the last week of February.
While special schools are re-opening from today.
She told Newstalk Breakfast: "We obviously want to make sure that strict measures are in place, that everybody in the school is safe - students and teachers - and we're also glad that the students will be in on their own.
"At least they'll have extra space - they can spread out and use other rooms, and great care and attention can be given to their safety and the safety of our members."
On Leaving Cert students, she said teachers have been working online with students throughout the pandemic.
But on getting sixth years back into a classroom, she said: "We are planning a phased return and we are now looking at when it will be safe for Leaving Certs to return to the classroom".
"I'm not sure when, we don't have a date set - but we expect it will be in the next few weeks".
She said negotiations are ongoing and they hope that students would back be in school "well before Patrick's Day".
'As soon as possible'
Asked about bringing Leaving Cert students back by the week of February 22nd, Ms Piggott said: "I don't think the 22nd itself is realistic.
"The numbers were going down, we were quite happy when it was 556 the other day, and then again it was 1,006 yesterday - that is very high.
"We're coming out of a lockdown, we certainly don't want another lockdown in April again - we would like the numbers to go down more".
Martin Marjoram is president of the Teachers Union of Ireland (TUI). He said the return of special needs students is "a very welcome step".
"Even though there's great work going on with regards to emergency, remote teaching it doesn't suit everybody - in particular some of these students would be far better off in the classroom.
"So we're happy to have concluded negotiations on this".
On the return of Leaving Cert students, he said: "We are keen to get back to the classroom: we think that week commencing the 22nd of February may be possible.
"And we certainly wanted to put out a signal that we're in favour of trying to get Leaving Certs in schools as soon as possible.
"We're in a negotiation here where everyone knows the outcome, which is a full return to school - and it is a matter of getting the phasing sorted out".
ASTI 'hopeful' Leaving Cert students can return to class 'well before Patrick's Day'
The two main secondary school teacher unions have backed the special needs return plan, along with Fórsa which represents Special Needs Assistants.
Special classes in secondary schools will return on February 22nd, the same day as they return in primary schools.
The Education Minister Norma Foley said she was pleased to see the classes return.
On Wednesday, the TUI said its executive council had unanimously agreed to facilitate the return of Leaving Cert students to school in the same week, "subject to public health advice."
While the ASTI said it "continues to engage with the Department of Education on the safe re-opening of schools for other cohorts of students."