The Government has “accepted and acknowledged” that there may be times when individual schools or classes will have to shut in the coming weeks, according to the INTO.
Primary and secondary schools are set to reopen as planned this Thursday despite the ongoing high cases numbers.
Following a meeting between the Education Minister, teachers’ unions and education stakeholders this afternoon, the Department of Education said there was “no public health rationale to delay the reopening”.
It said public health officials believe the COVID mitigation measures that are currently in place in schools are “effective and appropriate”.
Ahead of the meeting, teachers’ unions called for a staggered reopening and voiced concern about managing widespread staff shortages and shortages of air filtration devices and medical-grade masks.
On The Hard Shoulder this evening, the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO) President Joe McKeown said it will be difficult to keep every class in every school open in the coming weeks.
“There was recognition that principals will need support to keep schools open,” he said.
“They will need support in terms of staffing and so, arrangements have been made to make more student teachers available where necessary.
“What is also important for us is that, in making decisions about whether or not schools or classes need to be kept at home, the Department of Education will make sure that school inspectors will be available to give advice and support to principals because it is now accepted and acknowledged that it will probably not be possible to keep every class, in every school open.
“Principals will need guidance and support when those difficult decisions have to be made and that is very important”
Mr McKeown said the Department also agreed to ensure that HSE staff are on hand to support principals when they are making public health decisions.
He said the situation will be kept under review and further meetings will be held in the coming weeks to discuss how the arrangements are working out.
He said everyone at the meeting accepted that there will be COVID transmission in schools this term.
“Every single organisation trying to engage face to face with the public is experiencing difficulties,” he said.
“We know that schools will run into staff shortage issues and at least we have an indication today that, when a principal is faced with those circumstances, an inspector from the department will be able to give them advice and guidance with a view to making sure that children, with special education needs particularly, retain support insofar as it can possibly be done.”
He said the overwhelming majority of teachers want to return to in-person learning this week and the INTO will continue to advocate for the “maximum level of safety measures” while that happens.