Unions representing SNAs and teachers have called for the postponement of special schools reopening this week.
Fòrsa and the INTO have urged Government to “step back” from forcing the reopening.
In a statement released tonight, the unions say the government has failed to reassure staff of the safety of schools.
Students with special education needs were due to return to schools from Thursday, however the resumption is doubtful following the concerns of both teachers, SNAs and parents.
The INTO executive said it has heard from parents whose children have special educational needs and additional underlying health conditions and don’t have confidence in sending their children back to school at this time. The union is calling on the Department of Education to revise the reopening plan to ensure that these children would continue to be supported remotely, a provision they say was absent from the current proposal.
INTO General Secretary John Boyle said the fundamental problem was conflicting health messaging, which had left many school staff totally unconvinced that the school environment was safe under current conditions.
He said: “We are calling on the Government to avoid a confrontational approach that forces a reopening on tens of thousands of fearful staff who want to follow public health advice. Instead, they should continue to work with us to ensure that schools are safe for students and staff.”
Fórsa’s Education Division executive committee heard that workers were genuinely fearful that the school environment was unsafe for students and staff. The union said the discrepancy between national Covid-19 safety advice – which is to stay at home and avoid contact with others if at all possible – and inconsistent advice about safety in schools was at the root of staff anxiety.
Fórsa’s head of education, Andy Pike said: “The Government hasn’t won the support of special education stakeholders. I’m sure this was not the intention, but we are in a desperately sad situation where rushed efforts to prematurely reopen schools have pitched the special needs community against itself.”
Both unions will meet again tomorrow to decide the best way to provide the maximum support to members to ensure their health and safety.