Special schools and special classes in mainstream schools are to reopen on a phased basis this month.
A new agreement has been reached today between the Department of Education and the Fórsa and INTO trade unions.
Special schools will reopen on Thursday 11 February and classes in mainstream schools for pupils with special needs will resume on Monday 22 February.
Class capacity will be reduced to 50% when special schools reopen.
Meanwhile, additional supports have been secured for staff, such as flexible arrangements for staff in high risk health categories to continue working from home, augmented school support teams in all HSE areas to provide advice, contact tracing and bulk fast-track testing and high grade face masks to be provided to any teacher who seeks them.
A statement from INTO this evening said: “The INTO has always insisted that any decision related to our schools, during this pandemic, must be led by definitive up to date public health advice. Clear advice has now been provided by our public health authorities that this limited and partial reopening, along the terms agreed with this union, will not give rise to an increase in school-based or community transmission.
“Following the significant decrease in the 14 day average of infection rates since mid-January and the much lower reproduction rate of the virus NPHET further project that the public health landscape is expected to continue improving and will have improved considerably at the commencement of this interim plan.”
Education Minister Norma Foley said: “I am pleased that we are now in a position to give certainty to children with special education needs and their families on when they can return to school. Learning remotely is particularly hard for these children and I am acutely conscious that the loss of the regular school routine, social interaction with friends, direct face to face access to teachers and special needs assistants as well as therapy interventions have presented a huge challenge and a real risk of regression to the learning, social, emotional development and wellbeing of these pupils.”