Government faces deadlock with teachers’ unions over reopening schools

The government faces a deadlock with teachers ‘unions over reopening schools as the largest secondary teachers’ union calls for a postponement of reopening of schools after the Christmas recess.

Unions and school management bodies will meet Minister Norma Foley and officials from the Ministry of Education on Tuesday, before the schools are scheduled to reopen on Thursday after the Christmas holidays.

But the government’s special rapporteur on child protection warned against school closures, saying children had suffered a series of negative effects from last year’s closures.

UCC Professor Conor O’Mahoney said the mental health of many children, especially adolescents, was affected by school closures last year. He also said the impact of the closures was disproportionately felt by the most disadvantaged and at-risk children.

Senior government officials have insisted on reopening schools, but the decision by the secondary teachers’ union will put additional pressure on the coalition, which has always said its priority is to keep schools open and now faces the possibility. an impasse with the unions.

The Secondary Teachers Association in Ireland (ASTI) said last night (Monday) it was “deeply concerned” that schools could reopen without additional measures being put in place to protect students and staff.

“This would constitute an unacceptable risk in the context of the Omicron wave,” the union said.

Confirmed cases in hospital Confirmed cases in ICU

ASTI has said it will be proposing a phased reopening in which it has said face-to-face teaching with exam years should be given priority.

He also calls for HEPA filtration units to be deployed in schools, adding that he “goes beyond the idea that almost two years after the start of this pandemic, this basic installation is not in place where it is. necessary “.

Michael Gillespie, general secretary of the Teachers Union of Ireland (TUI), said it was important to recognize that a one-size-fits-all approach will not work.

He said there will be schools where 80 percent of teachers are available to work, and others where only 20 percent will be available.

The Irish National Teachers’ Organization (INTO) believes that it will be necessary to use more student teachers to replace classes in the coming weeks, due to staff members being on leave related to Covid.

Inclusion Ireland, the charity for people with intellectual disabilities, said it remained “optimistic” for the safe return to classrooms this week.

However, the organization called on the minister to recognize the “disproportionate effect” of school closings on children with additional needs, adding that their return to school must be a priority.

Meanwhile, ministers and senior officials expect the omicron wave to peak next week, with intense pressure on hospitals beyond that time.

High-level sources said they believed the increase in infections, although very large, was as expected and that it made no sense that hospitals were pressing the “panic button”.

But it appears members of the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) are seriously concerned about the mounting pressure on the healthcare system at a time when the Omicron wave has yet to peak.

Nphet will meet on Thursday to discuss the Covid-19 situation, while the three party leaders will meet this evening (Tuesday) ahead of a Cabinet meeting scheduled for Wednesday.

Sources said one of the goals of Thursday’s Nphet meeting will be to find ways to reduce people’s social contact. There is, however, very strong resistance within the government against any measure aimed at limiting family gatherings, for example.

A sharp increase in the number of patients with the virus in hospitals was reported on Monday with 804 hospitalized, up from 87, including 93 in intensive care, an increase of six. Sources familiar with the situation said they expected the discharge rate to increase in the second half of the week, as senior medics return from the Christmas holidays. The Department of Health has also reported 16,986 other infections, although these figures are “provisional” due to the high incidence of the disease.

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