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proposal Union chiefs wanted all children in special schools tested for Covid-19 as a condition of SNAs returning to work


Minister for Education Norma Foley. Photo by Frank McGrath

Minister for Education Norma Foley. Photo by Frank McGrath

Minister for Education Norma Foley. Photo by Frank McGrath

Union chiefs wanted all children in special schools tested for Covid-19 as a condition of returning to work.

Sources involved in the negotiations said the union Fórsa, which represents Special Needs Assistants (SNAs), put forward the proposal during the later stages of the talks.

It comes as families of children with special needs are seeking a meeting with Taoiseach Micheál Martin to press for urgent supports to help them while schools remain closed to their children.

Fórsa proposed the testing of all staff and children as a one-off event to begin with but the idea was not progressed as the talks collapsed. While Forsa had some concerns over accuracy of antigen tests, the union was open to using them rather than the more accurate PCR laboratory tests.

However, it is understood the proposal was rejected by the Department of Education as it was believed the testing would be too invasive for children with special needs.

The department also continued to insist public health advice on Covid-19 says schools are safe environments for teachers and students when compared with other workplaces.

Teacher unions have also sought to have their members moved up the list for vaccinations if they are to return to classrooms.

The Government has been forced to make a U-turn for a second time on plans to reopen special schools after unions rejected proposals for flexibility on leave and subsidies for childcare.

The unions were also offered temporary remote working arrangements for pregnant teachers or those with serious medical conditions.

In a statement last night, the Education Minister Norma Foley accused the unions of ignoring public health advice which deemed schools to be safe.

She also hit out at union leaders during a radio interview calling them “incredibly disingenuous” for claiming they had not told members not to return for school classes tomorrow.

Ms Foley said it wouldn’t be right to open schools “with no guarantee” from unions that teachers would show up.

The minister’s comments came after Irish National Teacher’s Association (INTO) general secretary John Boyle said it “absolutely did not” tell members to not show up for work.

Speaking on RTÉ Radio One’s Morning Ireland, Mr Boyle said: “I have an understanding that the vast majority of our members would have complied, but after our executive meeting last evening I spoke to 300 members in a large town in Ireland and the big difference I suppose is that the number of infection in the community are 10 times higher than they were in December.”

Ms Foley responded saying it was “incredibly disingenuous” of Mr Boyle to make the claim that teachers would have returned to classes.

“He has made it very clear in the statement that they issued, and indeed as did Fórsa that they were not happy to accept the public health advice that was issued to them and that they were not happy to accept all the measures that were put in place,” the minister added.

Meanwhile four advocacy organisations for children with special needs are seeking a meeting with the Taoiseach. They said the issue of the return to school was “moving out of the realm of education” and they were “facing a welfare and wellbeing crisis for these children and their families”.

AsIAm, Down Syndrome Ireland, Family Carers Ireland and Inclusion Ireland, expressed deep disappointment at the failure to re-open schools for children with special needs from tomorrow.

“The latest news on the continued closure of schools for children with special educational needs is another cruel blow to families,” they said.

With the sides laying responsibility for the current impasse at each other’s door, the advocacy organisations said “the blame game is not helpful in achieving the goals we all share for children with special educational needs”.

They said they recognised that all parties involved had concerns for their members and they hope that with continued engagement, a way forward could be found that worked in everyone’s interests.

They called on the Government and unions to re-engage to get special education back up and running as soon as possible.

The Department of Education has invited the unions to a meeting tomorrow.

The advocacy organisations said that while talks continued “children with special educational needs continue to regress and see the decline of key skills - some severely”.

They said they could not stress enough the scale of the impact the closure of schools is having on some children with special educational needs.

They said the welfare of vulnerable children must remain the central focus, and urgent additional supports were now required for the children and families affected to avert a child wellbeing crisis.

A spokesperson for the organisations said they were writing to Mr Martin to seek a meeting, and asking him to co-ordinate a whole-of-Government response to the issues facing the families they represented.

Online Editors