Marita Moloney
Marita Moloney

10.40 31 Oct 2020


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Strike action by secondary school teachers over COVID-19 safety concerns in schools would only take place as "a very last resort", according to the Association of Secondary Teachers (ASTI).

The ASTI wants more progress made in tackling the virus to ensure the safety of students and teachers in schools.

Its Standing Committee met yesterday after members voted to take industrial action unless the Government tackles coronavirus issues.

These include faster turnaround times for testing and tracing and the redefinition of close contacts.

The President of the ASTI, Ann Piggot, said the union does not want to see schools closed.

She told Newstalk Breakfast with Susan Keogh: "I want to assure every parent in this country that second-level schools will definitely be open on Monday morning and the ASTI shall not stop them opening.

"We've had several concerns over safety in schools, but I want to reiterate that the ASTI never had a plan to close schools indefinitely.

"We are worried about safety and health measures in schools, we are worried about the number of outbreaks, we are worried about our members going into class and knowing that perhaps a student could have tested positive and there may be close contacts in the class and they may be in danger.

"We want information, we want to know about risk assessment, we want test turnaround times to change, we want redefinition in of close contacts, and we want action in relation to our teachers who are high risk and still in the classroom."

Ms Piggot said she wanted to thank principals who have worked during the summer with teachers to ensure schools could reopen.

She added that she thought parents had been very appreciative of teachers who taught students online when schools closed in March.

Ms Piggot said: "I do think there is a huge appreciation for teachers from the public.

"I know the public are very worried about any action that might take place, and teachers are very worried about any impact on the public or on students.

"If we do strike, it's a very last resort, we have no intention of closing schools indefinitely, we're looking at all action should that be necessary.

"We have requests, they're not unfair, they're not too much to ask for.

"If we could engage with the Government and the Department of Health and the Department of Education to see those requests reaching an outcome then there would be no more need for conflict.

"We have already engaged and we're pleased to say that we welcome the engagement we've had this week."

Close contacts

Ms Piggot said a major concern for union members is clarification on how a close contact is defined.

She said: "A close contact is someone who has spent more than 15 minutes in a room with a positive case.

"We are hearing of positive cases, often by rumour, and then nobody is contacted as a close contact, or maybe one or two.

"So there seems to be uncertainty as to what a close contact is.

"It may be different in a group setting where people are wearing masks, but there seem to be several different definitions and several different decisions made depending on the situation.

"It was raised at our meeting that some [students] are probably wearing very cheap masks and if you blow through them, you can blow out a candle, so those masks wouldn't necessarily be great.

"We want to ensure that everybody is safe, so that's why we want more information on what a close contact is and how it's being defined in our classrooms."

Main image: A hand sanitiser station in a school in Dublin. Credit: Leah Farrell/RollingNews

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