Education Minister Joe McHugh is 'speaking out of two sides of his mouth' when it comes to school reopening plans, according to the head of one of the country's largest teaching unions.
ASTI President Deirdre Mac Donald says teachers will not accept a reopening regime that sees teachers following social distancing rules that are different to the rest of society.
It comes after it emerged yesterday shows the current two-metre rule would mean primary school students only attending class one day a week, and secondary students twice a week.
Minister McHugh said that would be a 'non-runner', and that the Department's now planning for a full return to school.
Ms Mac Donald told Newstalk Breakfast with Susan Keogh that teachers were surprised by yesterday's announcements.
She suggested people learned about 'an ambition' yesterday, but not about how to achieve it.
She observed: “We know the aim is to open schools up fully - we would love to go back where we left off in March, but that’s not possible. Unless they have advice from NPHET that we’re not party to… but we know exactly the same as the general public in terms of public health advice, so that’s the parameters we are working within.
“The Minister has actually been speaking outside of two sides of his mouth. He’s talking about everyone being back to support education - wonderful, absolutely - but also then about supporting a healthy school community."
According to Ms Mac Donald, no social distancing in schools would be "fine" if that's what health officials recommend.
However, she stressed that the union will not be satisfied with a "differentiated social distancing for our members than the rest of a societal norm".
She also noted that good hygiene measures and a hand-washing regime would have to be part of a wider 'suite of measures' for returning teachers and students.
Blended learning 'not viable'
Meanwhile, Fianna Fáil's education spokesperson Thomas Byrne said it's clear the Government isn't yet ready to announce school reopening plans.
He said: “I’m beginning to wonder the necessity of yesterday’s big announcement. Clearly everyone shares the ambition that we would go back to school fully in September, fully.... I know there is massive damage being done to children.
“We have to have a common ambition that we will open the schools fully in September, and if we’re not ready to announce something yet I would encourage the Department to keep working on it.
“It would have been sufficient for the Minister to say the ambition is to open schools fully."
Deputy Byrne also dismissed the prospect of 'blended learning', which would see a mix of online teaching alongside traditional classroom teaching.
He explained: "It’s about time we accept it is not a thing.
“Let’s not pretend it is a viable alternative… it could be fantastic, but we simply do not have the equipment, the structures, the infrastructure, the experience or the training [for] blended learning."