INTO General Secretary John Boyle has raised urgent questions over the government’s plan for special education schools to reopen next week.
The Donegal native has questioned the safety of reopening special schools, while mainstream schools are to remain closed until February.
The safety of staff and pupils must be ensured, the INTO stated following yesterday’s government announcement.
The organisation said the Department of Education did not consult with representatives on the decision to reopen special education settings for face-to-face classes on Monday 11th January.
INTO General Secretary John Boyle said: “In light of the deteriorating public health landscape and the increasing impact of the new Covid-19 variant, questions now need to be asked about elements of the government’s plan – how is it safe for staff or children to attend special education settings?
“We will seek to engage urgently with the Department of Education and NPHET to assess how special schools, special classes in mainstream primary schools and other high-risk units will be run and the steps which will be taken to protect the health and welfare of our members in those schools.
“The government must also publish NPHET’s latest advice alongside up-to-date public health figures setting out the public health basis for the decision to provide special education as normal within schools.
“It’s imperative that these members required to facilitate face to face learning, as front-line workers during the worst of the pandemic, should receive early vaccination and proper protection in the workplace.”
INTO and other key stakeholders in primary and special education were invited to a briefing meeting on Wednesday.
The organisation said they and other stakeholders expressed “serious concern” about the Department’s expectation that these specialised settings could reopen fully from next Monday without necessary preparation time and protections required for staff and students “when virtually everyone else in the country was being forced to stay at home in a frantic effort to flatten the curve.”
The INTO says the sustainable and safe reopening of these schools and classes should be based on specific health advice, with adequate preparation and a staged reopening.
The INTO has insisted that any decisions being made by government regarding the re-opening of schools, and in particular special educational settings, would be under-pinned by the most up-to-date public health advice.
“In particular we have drawn attention to the increasing number of young children who have tested positive for Covid-19 within the last two weeks and sought a thorough analysis of these figures relating to any new variants of the virus,” the organisation said.
“It is ironic that building sites are being closed on public health grounds just as pupils and staff are sent to work together with little evidence of additional safety assessments, specific public health review of risk and clear additional supports.”