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FAQs on the Re-Opening of Schools


Updated September 18th, 2020.

The successful reopening of schools for the coming school year is going to be an unprecedented and difficult undertaking. ASTI will provide information on this page as updates become available. ASTI has insisted that the safety of students, teachers and everyone within the school community must be protected.
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School Re-opening (General)
 

 

Health and Safety
 
Resources
 
Additional Teaching Support
 
Guidance and Training
 
Curriculum
 
School Re-opening (General)
 
 
(Q) What protocols are in place to assist in ensuring a safe return to work for ASTI members?
(A) A nationally agreed ‘return to work safely protocol’ is in place. The protocol relates to all workplaces. The protocol places a number of obligations on employers and outlines measures which must be taken while preparing to return to workplaces.
The Return to Work Safely Protocol can be accessed at the link below.
https://www.gov.ie/en/publication/22829a-return-to-work-safely-protocol/
 
(Q) What advice has been issued to ensure that schools can be reopened safely?
(A) On the 1st July, interim public health advice from the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) in relation to the re-opening of schools was issued.
The interim public health advice can be found here: https://www.education.ie/en/covid-19/interim-recommendations-for-the-reopening-of-schools-and-educational-facilities.pdf
 
(Q) Has the Department of Education issued any roadmap or guidance to assist in preparing for the successful reopening of schools?
(A) Yes. The Department of Education published “The Roadmap for the Full Return to School” on 27th July. It can be accessed here: https://www.gov.ie/en/publication/b264b-roadmap-for-the-full-return-to-school/
The Department of Education has also issued COVID-19 Response Plan for Safe Re-opening of Post-primary Schools on 27th July, 2020. 
The Guidance addresses a number of aspects of the necessary arrangements for reopening of schools.
 
(Q) Has the Department of Education committed to providing the necessary capital investment for the successful reopening of schools?
(A) The Government’s July Stimulus Package includes a capital allocation to carry out reconfiguration works necessary to support schools re-opening in late August. The type of works may involve reconfiguration of classroom space, re-purposing rooms to provide additional space, adapting storage facilities, altering desk layouts, adapting toilet areas etc.
 Post-primary schools will receive a once-off minor works grant worth €42m.
Schools do not need to apply for this grant, it will be paid directly to eligible schools during the month of August.
 
(Q) Has the Department of Education committed to providing additional teaching posts to support social distancing requirements necessary for the successful reopening of schools?
(A) Yes. During consultations with the Department in July 2020, the ASTI demanded that extra teaching appointments be made to support schools in adhering to social distancing requirements and to break down large classes. Ireland’s pupil teacher ratio at second-level is above the EU average; this means class sizes are larger.
“The Roadmap for the Full Return to School” published by the Department of Education on 27th July announced plans for an additional 1,080 teaching posts at post-primary level at a cost of €53 million, to include the following measures:
  • 120 guidance posts will be provided to support student wellbeing
  • An initial allocation of over 600 posts to be made available to post-primary schools
  • Remaining posts will be used to support those post-primary schools experiencing particular difficulties to reopen fully and adhere to physical distancing and class sizes.
These posts will be allocated based on school type to reflect enrolments and special education provision, along with a reserve of posts to support schools who have specific identified needs in implementing COVID-19 measures.
 
(Q) Has the Department of Education committed to providing additional support for school leaders to assist them in putting in place the necessary requirements for the successful reopening of schools?
(A) In a consultation process with the Department of Education in July 2020 ASTI insisted that additional support be provided to school leaders to support them in putting in place the necessary requirements for the successful reopening of schools.
 We pointed out that the Examinations Aide model of support is already in existence in schools and school leaders could be supported using a variant of this model. It is clear that putting the arrangements for return to school in place will be a mammoth task.
“The Roadmap for the Full Return to School” published by the Department of Education on 27th July announced a €4.2 million allocation to enable schools to employ an aide to implement the logistical changes needed in schools – moving furniture, changing classroom layouts, set up hand sanitising stations, signage etc.
 
(Q)Has the Department of Education committed to providing additional supervision resources which will be necessary for the successful reopening of schools?
(A) Yes. During consultations with the Department of Education in July 2020, ASTI demanded that additional supervision resources which will be necessary for the successful reopening of schools be put in place.
“The Roadmap for the Full Return to School” published by the Department of Education on 27th July announced an estimated additional cost of €40m to provide post-primary schools with additional supervision of students. This will be allocated to schools on a sliding scale to reflect enrolments.
 
(Q) What will a school need to have in place before re-opening for the 2020/2021 school year?
(A) Each school will need to have the following in place:
  • Arrangements to keep up to date with public health advice, changes to any Government plans for the safe re-opening of society and Department of Education updates;
  • Arrangements to pass on this information in a timely manner to staff, students, parents and others as required;
  • Arrangements to ensure that staff have reviewed the training materials provided by the Department of Education;
  • Provide staff with the Return to Work (RTW) form mandated within the national return to work safely protocol arrangements;
  • Have in place a Lead Worker representative or representatives dependent on the number of staff employed in the school;
  • Display posters and other signage aimed at preventing introduction and spread of COVID-19;
  • Make the necessary changes to the school or classroom layout (if necessary) to ensure adherence to physical distancing;
  • Remove unnecessary clutter to facilitate ongoing cleaning of the school but take into account the importance of having educational materials to create a stimulating learning environment;
  • Updated the health and safety risk assessment;
  • Made necessary arrangements to restrict access to the school and maintain records of contacts to the school;
  • Reviewed the school buildings to check the following:
  • Does the water system need flushing at outlets following low usage to prevent Legionella disease;
  • Has school equipment and mechanical ventilation been checked for signs of deterioration or damage before being used again;
  • Have bin collections and other essential services resumed.
 
(Q) Will induction training take place before school re-opening for the 2020/2021 school year?
(A) Yes. All staff will undertake and complete Covid-19 Induction Training prior to returning to the school building. The aim of such training is to ensure that staff have full knowledge and understanding of the following:
  • Latest up to-date advice and guidance on public health;
  • Covid-19 symptoms;
  • What to do if a staff member or student develops symptoms of Covid-19 while at school;
  • the Covid-19 response plan.
Induction Training for re-opening schools in the new school year will be developed by the Department of Education in consultation with stakeholders including ASTI and made available to all schools and staff.
 
(Q) What will be the procedure for returning to work for teachers?
(A) The Guidance that has been issued in the COVID-19 Response Plan for Safe Re-opening of Post-primary Schools sets out a number of steps that must be undertaken. In the first instance and in order to return to the workplace, all staff must complete a Return to Work (RTW) form, which is available online or from the Principal.  A copy is appended within the COVID-19 Response Plan for Safe Re-opening of Post-primary Schools guidance.
An RTW form should be completed and returned 3 days before returning to work. 
Details of the Induction Training for completion by staff and details of any additional health and safety measures in place in the school to facilitate the return to the school facility will also be provided.
 
(Q) What will be the procedure for those teachers who may be unable to return to school?
(A)
Some teachers may be unable to return to school. Current public health guidelines have identified these people as being in groups who are defined as being at very high risk. This will be updated in line with public health advice.

People at very high risk (extremely vulnerable):

The list of people in very high-risk groups include people who:

• are over 70 years of age - even if fit and well
• have had an organ transplant
• are undergoing active chemotherapy for cancer
• are having radical radiotherapy for lung cancer
• have cancers of the blood or bone marrow such as leukaemia, lymphoma or myeloma who are at any stage of treatment
• are having immunotherapy or other continuing antibody treatments for cancer
• are having other targeted cancer treatments which can affect the immune system, such as protein kinase inhibitors or PARP inhibitors
• have had bone marrow or stem cell transplants in the last 6 months, or who are still taking immunosuppression drugs
• have severe respiratory conditions including cystic fibrosis, severe asthma, pulmonary fibrosis, lung fibrosis, interstitial lung disease and severe COPD
• have a condition that means you have a very high risk of getting infections (such as SCID, homozygous sickle cell)
• are taking medicine that makes you much more likely to get infections (such as high doses of steroids or immunosuppression therapies)
• have a serious heart condition and are pregnant
• The advice for this group is available from the HSE.

The Department of Education published “The Roadmap for the Full Return to School” on 27th July. It can be accessed here.

The Department of Education has also issued COVID-19 Response Plan for Safe Re-opening of Post-primary Schools on 27th July, 2020.

The Guidance addresses a number of aspects of the necessary arrangements for reopening of schools.

Current public health guidelines have identified some people as being in groups who are defined as being at very high-risk. This will be updated in line with public health advice.

A list of people in very high-risk groups has been identified and published.

Circular Letter 0049/2020 sets out key arrangements for employees on the re-opening of schools.
It can be accessed here.
Its key provisions regarding employees who fall within the Very High Risk group are as follows:

Very High Risk Group
The HSE advice on the ‘very high risk’ groups is here

The ‘very high risk’ group is currently advised to cocoon.

Having considered the HSE advice and information available on the Occupational Health Service website, an employee who believes he/she is at very high risk of serious illness from contracting COVID19 must complete the online OHS Covid-19 Risk Assessment immediately and submit to the OHS. This Risk Assessment Form is available at the aforementioned above link. The employee must inform the employer immediately or on diagnosis, that they believe they are in the ‘very high risk’ group. The OHS Covid-19 Risk Assessment must be accompanied by a completed ‘Report from Treating Consultant’. Where such a report cannot be obtained from the treating consultant within a short timeframe, a copy of the latest treating consultant’s report can be obtained from the employee’s GP. The Report from Treating Consultant template is available on the OHS website. 
Having considered the medical information provided with the ‘OHS Risk Assessment’, the OHS will provide the employee with a ‘COVID-19 Risk Assessment Report’ which advises whether he/she is at a very high risk of serious illness from contracting COVID-19.

For employees where the ‘OHS Risk Assessment Report’ advises that they are at a very high risk of serious illness from contracting COVID-19 and cannot attend the workplace, the Declaration Form at Appendix C of CL 0049/2020 must be completed by the employee and returned immediately to the employer accompanied by the OHS Covid-19 Risk Assessment Report. Where medical diagnosis changes, the employee must inform the employer immediately.

In accordance with DPER guidance, where an employee who is at a very high risk of serious illness from contracting COVID-19 and is medically fit for work, the employer should prioritise alternative working arrangements to the maximum extent possible e.g. working from home. Further details are available at paragraph 12 of CL 0049/2020.

Where an employee has been advised by the OHS that he/she is at a very high risk of serious illness from contracting COVID-19 and is not attending the workplace, the employer may appoint a substitute, paid by the Paymaster.

Where an employee who is at very high risk of serious illness from contracting COVID-19 and has been assessed by the OHS as medically unfit for work due to a non-COVID-19 illness, the terms and conditions of the Sick Leave Scheme apply.

An employee assessed by the OHS as being in the ‘very high risk’ group must be recorded by the employer under the OLCS leave sub-category ‘Personal Leave’, sub-category titled ‘Covid19: Very High Risk Group’ or on the relevant ETB system.

 

(Q) ASTI has sought a meeting with the Health Protection Surveillance Centre to raise matters of concern. What has happened?

Regrettably, the HSPC declined to meet the ASTI but asked that we submit requests for information to them through the Department of Education and Skills. ASTI submitted some questions and received the following written responses.

(A) Can you supply details of arrangements regarding fast track Covid-19 testing for staff and students in schools, and whether it is possible to get results back in 24 hours?
The HSE advise the following in FAQs soon to be given to schools:

If a child or staff member develops symptoms at home, the child or staff member will be advised to contact their GP. Their GP will assess them and determine whether they should be referred for a COVID-19 testing. If this individual is referred for a COVID-19 test, they will receive a text message with information of their appointment.

If a child has symptoms which could be consistent with Covid-19, the parent/guardian should call their GP. Their GP will decide whether they should be tested for Covid-19. If the GP determines that the child does need a Covid-19 test, it is at this point their household contacts are asked to restrict their movements. This means siblings or staff living with the person who has symptoms should be removed from the school setting. Only the symptomatic case is asked to self-isolate.

There will be many cases where testing is not determined to be required. If it is early in the child’s illness, the recommendation is to observe for 48 hours and if no further additional symptoms develop, then they can return to school. If the GP has made an alternate diagnosis, they should follow advice and recommendations on exclusion depending on this diagnosis.

The child/ staff member will receive an automated scheduled appointment at a testing centre at the next possible free slot for testing. If the child/ staff member is experiencing symptoms and they have been referred for testing by their GP, they will receive one test.

If a child or staff member is identified as a close contact a test will be set up for these children/staff members. The HSE will send an SMS with the appointment date, time and location of the free Covid-19 test(s). Public Health will advise on the timing of a test for close contacts. This will depend on when the child/staff member was last in contact with the positive case. Testing will be arranged within 1-2 days. Public Health will advise whether a child/staff member needs one or more tests for Covid-19. They will usually require testing on Day 0 and 7 since their last exposure to the confirmed case, but there may be circumstances whereby Public Health require only one test to be undertaken e.g. if sufficient time has elapsed such that the first test close contacts will get will be 7 days since they were last exposed to the individual they will only require one test. Public Health doctors will make this judgement following the risk assessment.

From the Department’s point of view, the experience to date has been that where Public Health have become involved with the school and has identified close contacts, testing takes place very quickly, with results following the next day. Paul Reid from the HSE indicated that results are being turned around on average in 34 hours.


(B) Why was there no recommendation to put Perspex in front of the teachers’ desks in classrooms?
The HPSC considered a range of risk mitigation measures to support infection prevention and control within schools. As you are aware, in post primary schools, the main risk mitigation measures considered necessary relate to social distancing, hygiene and cleaning controls and the wearing of face coverings by staff and students. Schools have been provided however with funding to put in place additional measures and where it is difficult to ensure social distancing some schools have chosen to put Perspex screens in front of teachers’ desks.

(C) Why is there no temperature testing recommended, at least for adults, when they arrive in school each day?
See above. While, the Return to Work Safely Protocol makes provision for implementing temperature testing in line with Public Health advice. Currently, there is no public health requirement to undertake temperature testing/screening in the workplace. However, some employers may have included provisions for temperature screening as part of their return to work measures.

(D) Why was no guidance given on the numbers that could congregate for assemblies and staff meetings in schools?
The HPSC in their interim recommendations did recommend that Staff meetings may be held remotely, or in small groups or in large spaces to facilitate physical distancing. While no specific guidelines re numbers were included, schools are advised that staff should maintain a distance of 2m physical distancing from each other. There will be variable room sizes available to schools to conduct meetings according to this recommendation.

In relation to assemblies, further guidance was given to schools by the Department of Education on 26 August 2020.

(E) When a case has been confirmed it will not be automatically assumed that a whole class will be deemed as close contacts. Why?

When a case is confirmed within the school community, the local Department of Public Health will contact the school, ask lots of questions and carry out a risk assessment (PHRA). Public Health will identify any close contacts from the school setting with the Principal, through the process of the PHRA.

The Schools Pathway – Public Health Approach document confirms that the definition of close contacts within the school setting will be variable. It will not be automatically assumed that a whole class will be deemed as close contacts. This is because the school settings are so varied e.g. in young primary school children, ‘pods’ will likely be deemed close contacts and all removed. In secondary settings where there is social distancing rather than a ‘pod’ per se, close contacts will be determined by proximity and interaction with the index case; class placement; classroom structure; common travel; social
networks and friendship groups etc.

For people identified as symptomatic and Covid-19 is detected, public health will identify close contacts for 48 hours before the person became symptomatic.

If the person was asymptomatic, then public health will identify close contacts for 24 hours before the test was taken.

There is always some judgement required in these situations and this forms part of the PHRA (Public Health Risk Assessment). It may well be that for someone who is identified as Covid-19 detected there is no need to do any contact tracing within the school setting.
This would likely be because the case was not in school while infectious and therefore no contact tracing of within the school will be required.

(F) There is no blanket policy on testing entire year groups and classes in place. Why?
Close contacts will be identified following PHRA and engagement with the school and removed from the school setting. They will be tested as per national contact guidelines (Day 0 and 7) and they should be advised to restrict their movements and remain alert for symptoms, as per national guidelines.

Onward testing strategy will be determined by information from the initial risk assessment. There is no blanket policy to test entire classes or years. The strategy will be determined after risk assessment of the confirmed case, considering the likely source of infection and the likely potential for onward transmission of infection within the school setting. The risk assessment may be dynamic and change as new information becomes available. The testing strategy may evolve as information unfolds. There may be other community close contacts who will also be excluded from the school but
because of their community exposure NOT their school exposure e.g. siblings / cousins etc. Depending on results from testing, or following initial PHRA, the MOH may recommend wide spread swabbing within a class or a facility under HSE mass testing processes. Whether all students from a class / year are removed whilst undergoing testing, or whether remain in school, will be determined by the risk assessment.

Drivers of removal are the same as drivers for partial school closure as follows:

• Unique information and factors relevant to that particular educational facility and its infrastructure, with regard to infection transmission
• interactions of the community of pupils and teachers both within the school and how they interlink within the wider community
• patterns of infection within the wider local community and
• consider general community infection rates in the regions serviced by the educational facility.

An Outbreak Control Team may be called as appropriate, and to assist the Medical Officer of Health in the investigation and control of Covid-19 cases and outbreaks. A general outbreak plan for Covid-19 outbreaks can be found https://www.hpsc.ie/a-z/respiratory/coronavirus/novelcoronavirus/guidance/outbreakmanagementguidance/

Further information is available at https://www.hpsc.ie/a-z/respiratory/coronavirus/novelcoronavirus/guidance/educationguidance/Schools%20Pathway%20for%20COVID-19%20-%20the%20Public%20Health%20approach.pdf

(G) Schools are not to inform parents or staff if a pupil or staff member goes home with symptoms. Why?
If a pupil or staff member goes home with symptoms that may be consistent with Covid-19, the HSE advise that the Principal is asked only to make a note of the child’s absence with any brief nature of their symptoms they are informed of. They can remind parents of the symptomatic child that if they are concerned a child may have symptoms which could be consistent with Covid-19 they should contact their GP. No further actions are required at this stage. Schools are asked to note by Public Health that they should not inform other parents or staff members that a pupil or staff member has gone home due to their symptoms. Other pupils or staff do not need to be removed from class, including siblings or other household members. It is only when a GP determines that someone needs to be referred for a Covid 19 test that household members are asked to restrict their movements until the results have arrived.

If a child or staff member tests positive, the school cannot share the name of the child/staff member who has tested positive (Covid-19 detected) with the wider school community. This information is private and confidential. Close contacts will not be told the name of the confirmed case unless the guardian (of child)/person (staff) gives permission.


(H) If someone goes home with symptoms -other staff and students do not need to be removed from class including siblings or other household members. Why?
While people may display symptoms, it is the job of their GP to determine whether those symptoms are consistent with Covid-19. Once that medical assessment has been made and the person has been referred for a Covid 19 test, then all household members of that person will be asked to restrict their movements and not attend school or work.

(I) Experts have argued that if a single child is infected, the entire class at a minimum has to go home and isolate for two weeks – and get tested. Why is this arrangement not being recommended?
All advice being given to schools in this respect, some of which has been set out above, and the rationale behind it has been set out by the HSE in the Schools pathway document and has been developed by highly experienced public health specialists working with the HSE.

 

 
Lead Worker Representatives
 
(Q) The nationally agreed ‘Covid-19 return to work safely protocol’ requires that Lead Worker Representatives are put in place in all workplaces. How will this happen in schools?
(A)The school staff are entitled to select staff members for the LWR position(s). The LWR(s) represent all staff in the workplace regardless of role and must be aware of specific issues that may arise in respect of different staff cohorts. In this regard, where a school has two LWRs, the roles should be spread between teaching and non-teaching staff where feasible. 
 All staff are entitled to volunteer for the LWR role and have their name put forward for election where necessary. The process for the selection and appointment of the LWR(s) is that management will seek expressions of interest from all staff in the first instance. A template email for this purpose is attached. If an election is necessary, all school staff members will have an equal vote to select the LWR(s).”
 
Lead Worker Representative – Post-Primary Schools
The COVID-19 Return to Work Safely Protocol is designed to support employers and workers to put measures in place that will prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace. The Protocol was developed following discussion and agreement between the Government, Trade Unions and Employers at the Labour Employer Economic Forum.
The Protocol provides for the appointment of a Lead Worker Representative (LWR) in each workplace. The LWR will work in collaboration with the employer to assist in the implementation of measures to prevent the spread of COVID -19 and monitor adherence to those measures and to be involved in communicating the health advice around COVID-19 in the workplace.
 The purpose of this document is to set out the provisions in respect of the LWR in schools. These arrangements will operate for the 2020/21 school year and will be kept under review by the parties.
 This document should be read in conjunction with:
  1. Collaborative Approach
Responsibility for the development and implementation of the Covid-19 Response Plan and the associated control measures lies with the Board of Management/ Education and Training Board and school management.
Strong communication and a shared collaborative approach is key to protecting against the spread of COVID-19 in schools, and looking after the health, safety and wellbeing of staff and students. Adherence to the Return to Work Protocol will only be achieved if everyone has a shared obligation in implementing the measures contained within the Protocol in their place of work.
If a staff member has any concerns or observations in relation to the Covid-19 Response Plan, control measures or the adherence to such measures by staff, students or others, they should contact the LWR who will engage with school management.
 
  1. Role of the Lead Worker Representative
The role of LWR is separate to that of the Safety Representative under the health and safety legislation. However, the Safety Representative may act as the LWR if selected to do so by the staff.
In summary, the role of the LWR is to:
  • Represent all staff in the workplace regardless of role, and be aware of specific issues that may arise in respect of different staff cohorts;
  • Keep up to date with the latest COVID-19 public health advice;
  • Work collaboratively with school management to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the safety, health and welfare of employees in relation to COVID-19;
  • Consult with school management on the control measures required to minimise the risk of staff and students being exposed to COVID-19;
  • Promote good hygiene practices, in conjunction with school management, such as washing hands regularly and maintaining good respiratory etiquette along with maintaining social distancing in accordance with public health advice;
  • Assist school management with the implementation of measures to suppress COVID-19 in the workplace in line with the Return to Work Safely Protocol and current public health advice;
  • Monitor, in conjunction with school management, adherence to measures put in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19;
  • Conduct reviews of safety measures that are in place to address and suppress Covid-19 in the workplace. Reviews (including an examination of the workplace) should be conducted on a regular basis (at least twice per week);
  • Report any issues of concern immediately to school management and keep records of such issues and actions taken to rectify them;
  • Consult with the school management on the school’s COVID-19 Response Plan in the event of someone developing COVID-19 while in school including the location of an isolation area and a safe route to that area;
  • Following any incident, assess with the school management any follow up action that is required;
  • Consult with colleagues on matters relating to COVID-19 in the workplace;
  • Make representations to school management on behalf of their colleagues on matters relating to COVID-19 in the workplace.
 
  1. What can a Lead Worker Representative Do?
The LWR may consult with, and make representations to, school management on any issue of concern in relation to COVID-19. These include issues in relation to:
  • Cleaning protocols and their implementation
  • Physical Distancing
  • Configuration/re-configuration of the school facilities, including classrooms, corridors, halls, open areas, entry and exit points, school grounds etc.
  • Implementation of one-way systems in the school to ensure social distancing including when entering and exiting the school
  • Hand Hygiene facilities including their location and whether they are stocked and maintained
  • Hand sanitising
  • Staff awareness around hand hygiene in the school
  • Respiratory hygiene
  • Personal Protective Equipment
  • At Risk Groups
  • Visitors/Contractors
 
  1. Does an LWR have any legal responsibilities?
No. A Lead Worker Representative does not have any duties in relation to COVID-19 other than those that apply to employees generally. In other words, the LWR is not responsible for the control measures within an organisation, which remains the employer’s responsibility.
 
  1. Lead Worker Representative(s)
Every school will appoint one Lead Worker Representative.
In schools with more than 40 staff, a second Lead Worker Representative will be appointed.

 6. Selection of Lead Worker Representative(s)
 
The school staff are entitled to select staff members for the LWR position(s). The LWR(s) represent all staff in the workplace regardless of role and must be aware of specific issues that may arise in respect of different staff cohorts. In this regard, where a school has two LWRs, the roles should be spread between teaching and non-teaching staff where feasible. 
 
All staff are entitled to volunteer for the LWR role and have their name put forward for election where necessary. The process for the selection and appointment of the LWR(s) is that management will seek expressions of interest from all staff in the first instance. A template email for this purpose is attached. If an election is necessary, all school staff members will have an equal vote to select the LWR(s).”
 
  1. Supports for the Lead Worker Representative/s
The LWR(s) shall be entitled to:
  • Be provided with information and training in respect of their role. Induction Training for re-opening schools in the new school year has been developed by the Department of Education. This includes a training module for the Lead Worker Representative. This material can be accessed here.
  • Be consulted by school management on the control measures being put in place by the school to minimise the risk of being exposed to COVID-19;
  • Regular communication with school management on issues related to COVID-19;
  • Be informed of changes in practice arising from COVID-19 response measures;
  • Have access to any risk assessments prepared or carried out in relation to COVID-19 and to details of incidents of suspected COVID-19 cases that have been notified to the HSE, where they occurred and any actions taken.
  • Be provided with the necessary facilities to enable them to consult with employees or prepare any submissions or reports. These might include access to a meeting room, photocopier, communications and equipment.
Where the LWR is a teacher, the LWR will receive protected time of 2 hours per week from timetable to enable them to carry out their duties in that role. In the rare instances where the appointment of a teacher selected for the LWR would cause curricular/timetabling difficulties which cannot be resolved, school management will examine internal and external possibilities to enable the teacher’s appointment as LWR. Where the matter cannot be resolved, management will set out the reasons why this is the case. In this circumstance, an alternative individual must be appointed as LWR. 
Where the LWR is an SNA, 66 of the “72 hours” will be utilised by the LWR to carry out their duties in that role.
Where the LWR is a Secretary or Caretaker, a re-prioritisation of duties by school management should be carried out to afford the staff member sufficient time to carry out their duties in that role within the scope of their normal contracted hours.
 
    1. Procedure for dealing with issues that arise
    Where a COVID-19 control concern is identified by the LWR (or is notified to the LWR by a staff member), the LWR should bring this to the attention of the Principal. Action points for addressing the issue should where possible be agreed between the LWR and the Principal as a matter of urgency. Staff should be informed of the outcome. It is envisaged that issues will be resolved at school level to the maximum extent possible.
    If agreement cannot be reached, the LWR should notify the Board of Management (Chairperson in the first instance)/ Education and Training Board head office of the issue. Action points for addressing the issue should where possible be agreed between the LWR and the BoM/ETB head office as a matter of urgency. Staff should be informed of the outcome.
    If, having exhausted the process above, a serious issue of concern remains outstanding, the LWR may have recourse to the Health and Safety Authority.
    Useful resources have also been developed by the Health & Safety Committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions in relation to the Return to Work Protocol and the role of the Lead Worker Representative. These focus on trying to support, in a practical way, the role of the Lead Worker Representative. They include a recommended complaints procedure in the event of non-compliance with the protocol. There is also a guide to the role of the Lead Worker Representative and a PowerPoint presentation to assist in that respect.
     
    All of these resources and more are now available at
    https://www.ictu.ie/healthandsafety/covid-19/
 
  1. Glossary of Terms
  • COVID-19 Response Plan: plan designed to support the staff and BOM/ ETB in putting measures in place that will prevent the spread of Covid-19 in the school environment. The plan details the policies and practices necessary for a school to meet the Return to Work Safely Protocol, the Department of Education plan for school reopening and to prevent the introduction and spread of COVID-19 in the school environment. COVID-19 Response Plans for Post-primary Schools are available on the Department’s website.
  • Labour Employer Economic Forum (LEEF): the forum for high level dialogue between Government, Trade Union and Employer representatives on matters of strategic national importance - involves the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, Government & Employers.
  • Return to Work Protocol: national protocol designed to support employers and workers to put measures in place that will prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace.
  • Safety Representative: Section 25 of the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005 sets out the selection and role of the Safety Representative in the workplace. The rights of the Safety Representative are set out in legislation. (Note: A Safety Representative has rights and not duties under the 2005 Act). This role is separate to the LWR under COVID-19, but the Safety Representative may act as the LWR if selected to do so by the staff.
 
TEMPLATE EMAIL TO STAFF REGARDING LEAD WORKER REPRESENTATIVE APPOINTMENT PROCESS
 Dear All,
 As you will be aware, significant work and consultation has taken place to enable a full return to school from the beginning of the 2020/21 school year.
 The resumption of school-based teaching and learning and the return to the workplace of staff must be done safely and in strict adherence to the advice and instructions of public health authorities and the Government.
 The COVID-19 Return to Work Safely Protocol is designed to support employers and workers to put measures in place that will prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace. The Protocol was developed following discussion and agreement between the Government, Trade Unions and Employers at the Labour Employer Economic Forum. In addition, every school has a COVID-19 Response Plan in place.
 The Return to Work Safely Protocol provides for the appointment of a Lead Worker Representative (LWR) in each workplace.
 The LWR will work in collaboration with the employer to assist in the implementation of measures to prevent the spread of COVID -19 and monitor adherence to those measures and to be involved in communicating the health advice around COVID-19 in the workplace.
 A copy of the school’s COVID-19 Response Plan is attached and this includes further detail on the role of the Lead Worker Representative. The COVID-19 Return to Work Safely Protocol is here: https://www.gov.ie/en/publication/22829a-return-to-work-safely-protocol/
 In this school, there are (1 or 2 – delete as appropriate) Lead Worker Representative positions.
 Under the Protocol, the school staff are entitled to select staff members for the LWR position(s). In this regard, I am now inviting expressions of interest from staff for these positions, by return email.
 The LWR(s) represents all staff in the workplace regardless of role and must be aware of specific issues that may arise in respect of different staff cohorts. Where a school has two LWRs, the roles should be spread between teaching and non-teaching staff where feasible e.g. where there is a significant number of non-teaching staff in the school and one or more expressions of interest are received from that cohort.
 Training for the role will be provided.
 If an election is necessary, all school staff have a vote to select the LWR(s). Further details on this process will be sent to you if this arises. Following selection by the school staff, the LWR(s) will be formally appointed. The LWR details will be sent to all staff following their appointment.
 
Yours sincerely,
 
 
________
Principal

 

(Q) Is there a complaints procedure for dealing with an employer who is not complying?

(A) Yes.  The matter can be referred to the Health and Safety Authority at wcu@hsa.ie  For further information on the procedure see ICTU Local Workplace Representative Complaints Procedure


See below for ICTU presentations:

Role of Lead Worker Representative
Guide to LWR Role Presentation
Lead Worker Representative Return to Work Safely Protocol 

 
(Q) What arrangements will be put in place in schools to ensure physical distancing can take place?
(A) On the 1st July, interim public health advice from the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) in relation to the re-opening of schools was issued.
It stated as follows:
Physical distancing measures fall into two broad categories:
  • increasing separation;
  • decreasing interaction.
The principle of distancing can be usefully applied in the school setting, allowing for some flexibility when needed. However, it must be applied in a practical way, recognising that the learning environment cannot be dominated by a potentially counterproductive focus on this issue.
The implementation of physical distancing will look different across the various ages and stages of learning. How physical distancing is implemented for primary school children, for children with special educational needs or disabilities and for pupils in the secondary level will be different. Care should be taken to avoid generating tension or potential conflict and some flexibility in the implementation of measures may be required at times. It is acknowledged that staff will not always be able to maintain physical distance from their pupils and it is not appropriate that they would always be expected to do so where this could have a detrimental impact on the child e.g. if a child sustains an injury and requires first aid.
However, where possible teachers should maintain a minimum of 1m distance and where possible 2m. They should take measures to avoid close contact at face to face level such as remaining standing rather than sitting beside/crouching down.
Physical Distancing in the Classroom Increasing separation
  • All available space in the school should be availed of in order to safely maximise physical distancing. The class space should be reconfigured to maximise physical distancing.
  • Maintaining as much distance as is reasonably practicable between people within the classroom is likely to have substantial effect.
  • Situations that require people to sit or stand in direct physical contact with other people should in particular be avoided.
  • The teacher’s desk should be placed at least 1m and where possible 2m away from pupil’s desks.

Decreasing interaction
The extent to which this is practical will depend on the school setting. A common-sense approach is required in recognising the limits to which decreasing interaction between pupils can be achieved. The following measures should be encouraged:
Limit interaction on arrival and departure and in hallways and other shared spaces Social physical contact (hand to hand greeting/hugs) should be discouraged. Where pupils need to move about within the classroom to perform activities (for example to access a shared resource) this should be organised to the greatest extent possible to minimise congregation around the point of access to the shared resource Pupils and teachers should avoid sharing of personal items such as pens and other writing materials, tablets and phones to the greatest extent possible Encourage people to avoid behaviours that involve hand to mouth contact (putting pens/pencils in the mouth) Where teaching and learning involves use of keyboards or tablets the contact surfaces of the devices should be cleaned regularly and hand hygiene encouraged.
Where sub-groups are formed within a class for group work, to the greatest extent possible the same pupils should generally be in the same group, although movement between groups may be necessary to address tensions between pupils
Post Primary Level
  • Physical distancing of 2 metres where possible or at least 1 metre should be maintained between desks or between individual students or staff. In future planning, consider moving to individual desks and chairs for students.
  • As far as possible students would remain in the classroom and teachers would move between rooms.
  • All children would be assigned to a main class cohort, which would remain in the classroom for most subjects with teachers moving between rooms.
  • Where possible double classes would be planned to minimise movement during the day.
  • Where students have to move to an elective subject they would move quickly into the new class and would be seated with members of their class cohort, observing as much physical distancing as possible.
  • Hand washing and/or sanitising would be required when moving between classes by both teacher and students.
  • Physical distancing between the teacher and the class would be observed.
  • Where movement of class groups between rooms is required it should be planned to minimise interaction with other class groups (for example coordination of movements at staggered times). Physical distancing outside of the classroom and within the school Arrangements for dropping off / picking up children:
  • Students should maintain 2 metres physical distance as much as possible.
  • Walking/Cycling to school should be encouraged as much as possible.
  • These should be organised to maintain a distance of 2 metres between parents and guardians and between parents and guardians and the school staff.
  • The aim is to avoid congregation of people at school gates where physical distancing requirements are not respected.
  • Some approaches that that may be considered include the following:
Staggered drop off/pick up times where practical/feasible, so that not all children arrive onsite at one time. o If the school has additional access points, consideration may be given to whether it would be beneficial to open these to reduce congestion.
Consideration may be given to where children go as they arrive at the facility. This could include heading straight to their small group’s designated learning space/classroom.
For those arriving by car, parents may be encouraged to park further away from the school and then walk with their children to avoid congestion, or alternatively use active travel routes where feasible. Where learning spaces can be accessed directly from outside, this should be encouraged to decrease interactions between individuals in circulation spaces.
Physical distancing considerations for staff:
Reopening of schools and educational facilities
  • A distance of 2 metres is recommended for physical distancing by staff. In the context of education this is especially relevant to distancing between adults when they are not engaged in teaching for example when on breaks and arriving for work.
  • If a distance of 2m cannot be maintained in staff group interactions, as much distance as possible should be maintained and guidance on face coverings should be observed.
  • Physical distancing should be observed between staff members within the staff room through the use of staggered breaks etc. In particular at post primary level, this could also be facilitated through the formation of school staff 'pods' / teams who work together and take breaks together.
  • Staff meetings may be held remotely, or in small groups or in large spaces to facilitate physical distancing.
  • Implement a no hand shaking policy.
  • Minimise gathering of school staff in workplace at beginning or end of school day.
  • Staff can rotate between areas/classes but this should be minimised where possible. Canteen facilities – to the greatest extent possible
  • Ensure that physical distancing is applied in canteen facilities.
  • Stagger canteen use and extend serving times to align with Class Groupings.
  • Implement a queue management system with correct marking to avoid queues.
  • Make sure students clean their hands before and after entering the canteen area. Corridors & Stairwell Briefly passing someone in a hallway is very unlikely to contribute significantly to spread of infection if people do not have physical contact and avoid informal group discussions.
Yard/Supervision
The risk of virus transmission from contact with outside surfaces or play areas is low
  • Adjust playtime/outdoor activities to minimise crowding at entrance and exits
  • Stagger break times and outdoor access;
  • Children should be encouraged to perform hand hygiene before and after outdoor activities;
  • Minimize equipment sharing, and clean shared equipment between use by different people. Reopening of schools and educational facilities
Activities Choir/Music Performances
  • Choir practices/performances and music practices/ performances involving wind instruments may pose a higher level of risk and special consideration should be given to how they are held ensuring the room is well ventilated and the distance between performers is maintained.
Sport Activities: See HPSC guidance on Return to Sports activities.
The interim public health advice can be found here.
Following the issuance of this guidance from the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) the Department of Education adapted it and included further detail in the COVID-19 Response Plan for Safe Re-opening of Post-primary Schools on 27th July.
Included in the plan is a framework for physical distancing in schools. It can be accessed here.
It sets out a Framework to maintain Physical Distancing in the Classroom in Post Primary Schools for the 2020/21 School Year: It provides as follows:
Physical distancing can be usefully applied in a post primary school setting allowing for some flexibility when needed. It must be applied in a practical way to recognise that the learning environment cannot be dominated by a potentially counterproductive focus on this issue. Care should be taken to avoid generating tension or potential conflict and some flexibility in the implementation of measures may be required at time.
It is also recognised that it is not always possible for staff to maintain physical distance from students and it is not appropriate that they would always be expected to do so where this could have a detrimental impact on the student.
However, where possible staff should maintain a minimum of 1 m distance and where possible 2m. They should also take measures to avoid close contact at face to face level such as remaining standing rather than sitting beside/crouching down.
Physical distancing falls into two categories:
  • Increasing separation
  • Decreasing interaction
Increasing separation
Given that each school setting is different in terms of (i) location; (ii) physical layout (iii) available space within the school; and (iv) student numbers; schools themselves are best placed to decide on the appropriate reconfigurations / operational changes necessary to maintain physical distancing. 
In recognition that a ‘one size fits all’ approach would not be appropriate as schools themselves are best placed to decide on the appropriate configuration for their school, the Department has developed a Framework to maintain Physical Distancing in the Classroom in Post Primary Schools with a full return of all Students for the 2020/21 School Year.  The Framework sets out a suite of available measures that must be implemented at individual school level to the greatest possible extent.
The suite of measures set out in the Framework are:
  1. Reconfigure class spaces to maximise physical distancing;
  2. Utilising and reconfiguring all available space in the school in order to maximise physical distancing;
  3. Review Timetables;
  4. Reconfiguring Classes;
  5. Consider Use of Live Streaming within the School; and
  6. Accessing available spaces within the local community
Decreasing interaction
The extent to which decreasing interaction is possible in a post primary school will depend on the school setting and a common-sense approach is required recognising the limits to which this can be achieved between students.
In post primary schools physical distancing of 2m where possible or at least 1m should be maintained between desks or between individual students or staff.
As far as possible and practical, students would remain in the classroom and teachers would move between rooms.
As far as possible and practical students would be assigned to a main class cohort which would remain in the classroom for most subjects, with teachers moving between rooms.
Where possible and practical double classes should be planned to minimise movement during the day.
Where students have an elective subject they would move quickly into the new class and would be seated with members of their class cohort, observing as much physical distance as possible.
Hand washing and/or sanitising would be required when moving between classes by teachers and students.
Physical distancing between the teacher and class would be observed.
Where movement of class groups between rooms is required it should be planned to minimise interaction with other class groups.
Limit interaction on arrival and departure and in hallways and other shared areas.
Social physical contact (hand to hand greetings, hugs) should be discouraged.
Where students need to move about within the classroom to perform activities (access to a shared resource) it should be organized to the greatest degree possible to minimise congregation at the shared resource.
Staff and students should avoid sharing of personal items.
Where teaching and learning involves use of keyboards or tablets, the contact surface of the device should be cleaned regularly and hand hygiene encouraged.
Physical Distancing outside of the classroom and within the school
School drop off/collection
Arrangements for dropping off/collecting students should be arranged to maintain physical distancing of 2m where possible.
Walking/cycling to school should be encouraged as much as possible.
Aim of any arrangements is to avoid congregation of people at the school gates where physical distancing requirements may not be respected.
Staggered drop off/pick up times should be arranged where feasible.
If schools have additional access points, consideration may be given to whether they can be used to reduce congestion.
Students should head straight to their designated learning space/classroom.
Staff
A distance of 2m is recommended for physical distancing by staff. This is particularly relevant to distancing between adults when they are not engaged in teaching such as the staff room and arriving to work.
If 2m cannot be maintained in staff groups, as much as distance as is possible and guidance on face covering should be observed.
At post primary level consideration could be given to formation of staff “pods” or teams who work together and take breaks together.
Staff meetings should be held remotely or in small groups or in large spaces to facilitate physical distancing.
Implement no hand shaking policy.
Minimise gathering at the beginning or end of the school day.
Canteen
Ensure physical distancing is applied in canteen facilities
Stagger canteen use and extend serving times where possible to align with class groupings.
Implement a queue management system.
Make sure students clean their hands before and after entering the canteen area.
Corridors and Stairwells
Briefly passing someone in a hall is very unlikely to contribute significantly to the spread of infection if people do not have physical contact and avoid informal group discussions. 
 
(Q) Has the Department of Education committed to providing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and hand sanitiser materials for schools which will be necessary for the successful reopening of schools?
(A) The Department of Education has put a central procurement arrangement in place for the supply of PPE and hand Sanitiser materials to schools to support their reopening in the context of the Covid-19 Pandemic. Schools will be able to draw down supplies of these materials. The Department will provide a grant to schools, based on a sliding scale to reflect enrolments.
PPE includes gloves, aprons, masks, visors etc.
The Department has assured ASTI that there will be sufficient supplies available to meet the needs of all schools.
 
(Q) Will PPE be used by teachers and students in classrooms when schools reopen?
(A) On the 8th August, the Minister for Education made an announcement regarding this matter.
The Press statement with key excerpts extracted from the Minister’s statement can be found here.
Key excerpts are as follows:
Students at post primary level, apart from specific exemptions will be required to wear face coverings in the classroom.
Staff, including teachers at both primary and post primary levels, who cannot maintain a 2m distance from students or other staff will be required to wear face coverings.
On the 1st July, interim public health advice from the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) in relation to the re-opening of schools was issued. It did not require the wearing of face coverings by either teachers or students in schools upon return to school in August 2020.
In late July, ASTI wrote to the Minister for Education, Norma Foley TD, to request that she seek a general review by the Health Protection Surveillance Centre of the interim recommendations they issued in June, prior to schools reopening in late August. In particular, we requested a review regarding the wearing of face coverings within schools.
We made the point that significant changes in public policy had been introduced regarding the wearing of masks on public transport and in other enclosed spaces since the interim recommendations for the reopening of schools and educational facilities were provided to the Department in Education.

Following these representations by the ASTI, on the 7th August, 2020, the Minister for Education Norma Foley TD announced the adoption of new advice from the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) regarding the use of face coverings within schools.

At the request of the Minister, the HPSC reviewed and updated its advice and has recommended to the Minister the implementation of face coverings for both teachers and students in second-level schools.

In particular, key excerpts state as follows:
It is recommended that teachers, staff and students attending secondary schools wear a face-covering when a physical distance of 2 meters from other staff or students cannot be maintained.
In certain situations, the use of clear visors should be considered, for example staff interacting with students with hearing difficulties or learning difficulties.

All children on the post primary school transport scheme should be asked to wear face coverings unless there is a good reason not to do so.
Cloth face coverings should not be worn by any of the following groups:

Any person with difficulty breathing
Any person who is unconscious or incapacitated
Any person who is unable to remove the face-covering without assistance
Any person who has special needs and who may feel upset or very uncomfortable wearing the face covering, for example persons with intellectual or developmental disabilities, mental health conditions, sensory concerns or tactile sensitivity.
Practical Considerations
All staff and students wearing face coverings should be reminded to not touch the face covering and to wash or sanitize their hands (using a hand sanitizer) before putting on and after taking off the face covering.

Information should be provided on the proper use, removal, and washing of cloth face coverings
All teachers and staff should be aware that they should wash or sanitize hands (using a hand sanitizer) before and after helping a student put on or adjust a face covering.

Face coverings should be stored in a space designated for each student that is separate from others when not being worn (e.g., in individually labelled containers or bags).
Cloth face coverings should be washed after every day of use and/or before being used again, or if visibly soiled.
Face coverings should not be worn if they are wet. A wet cloth face covering may make it difficult to breathe.
Schools should consider having additional disposable face coverings available for students, teachers, and staff in case a back-up face covering is needed during the day.
Advice on how to properly use face coverings can be found here.
It is essential for those wearing a cloth face covering to understand that the purpose is not to protect themselves but to reduce onward transmission and the benefit is reliant on wearing the covering appropriately.
 
In September 2020, the Department of Education and Skills issued a clarification on the use of face coverings in Schools.
Clarification on the use of face coverings in Post Primary schools
Wearing a face covering or mask does not negate the need to stay at home if symptomatic.
Wearing of face coverings – a requirement
Staff and students, at post-primary level, are required to wear a face covering. The exemptions to this are set out below.
Cloth face coverings
Cloth face coverings are recommended for staff and students. Cloth face coverings act as a barrier to help prevent respiratory droplets from travelling into the air and onto other people when the person wearing the face covering coughs, sneezes, talks or raises their voice. Cloth face coverings are therefore intended to prevent transmission of the virus from the wearer (who may not know that they are infected) to those with whom they come into close contact. Face coverings must not contain any slogans/logos/images that may cause upset or be deemed offensive to any member of the school community.
Visors
Cloth face coverings are more effective than visors. In the limited circumstances where a cloth face covering cannot be worn clear visors must be considered. The alternate use of a clear visor can also be considered when a staff member is interacting with students with hearing difficulties or learning difficulties.
Exemptions
A medical certificate to certify that a person falls into a category listed below must be provided to the school by, or on behalf of, any person (staff or student) who claims that they are covered by the exemptions below:
  • any person with difficulty breathing who cannot wear a cloth face covering or a visor
  • any person who is unable to remove the cloth face-covering or visor without assistance
  • any person who has special needs and who may feel upset or very uncomfortable wearing the cloth face covering or visor, for example persons with intellectual or developmental disabilities, mental health conditions, sensory concerns or tactile sensitivity.
In circumstances where a medical certificate is not provided that person (staff or student) will be refused entry to the school.
Directions for effective use of face coverings
  • Information should be provided by schools on the proper use, removal, and washing of face coverings. Advice on how to use face coverings properly can be found here.
  • All staff and students should be reminded not to touch the face covering and to wash or sanitise their hands (using hand sanitiser) before putting on and after taking off the face covering.
  • All staff (and students, where applicable), should be aware that they should wash or sanitise hands (using a hand sanitiser) before and after helping a student put on or adjust a face covering.
  • Face coverings should be stored in a designated space, for example, in an individually labelled container or bag.
  • Cloth face coverings should be washed after every day of use and/or before being used again, or if visibly soiled.
  • Face coverings should not be worn if they are wet. A wet cloth face covering may make it difficult to breathe.
Whilst staff and students may wish to utilise their own face covering on a day-to-day basis, schools should have a stock of additional disposable or multi-use face coverings (or if appropriate, visors) for staff and students in case a back-up face covering is needed during the day or where required on an ongoing basis.
Use of medical grade face coverings
Schools should consider the specific circumstances where the use of medical face masks (to EU Standard EN 14683) may be more appropriate for staff as part of their risk assessment for employees returning to work (for example where staff by necessity need to be in close and continued proximity with students with intimate care needs such as SNAs).
Students using school transport
All students on the post primary transport scheme are required to wear face coverings subject to the exemptions above.
 
(Q) What additional arrangements are being put in place to support the enhanced cleaning in schools that will be required for the 2020/2021 school year?
(A) The Department of Education has committed to provide additional funding of €52 million to schools to support the enhanced cleaning required to minimise the risks of COVID-19. A Circular Letter will be issued and will be updated as required. This is being provided on a per pupil basis and is intended to allow an additional 4 to 6 hours cleaning per day in schools.
Specific advice set out in the HPSC guidance on the safe re-opening of schools sets out the cleaning regime required to support schools to prevent COVID-19 infections and the enhanced cleaning required in the event of a suspected cases of COVID-19
The COVID-19 Response Plan for Safe Re-opening of Post-primary Schools issued by the Department of Education on 27th July, 2020 sets out detailed requirements on frequency of cleaning requirements, access to cleaning products, waste disposal, and disinfection arrangements.  The plan can be accessed here.
 
(Q) What arrangements are being put in place to deal with a suspected case of Covid-19?
(A) The COVID-19 Response Plan for Safe Re-opening of Post-primary Schools issued by the Department of Education on 27th July 2020 sets out detailed requirements on this matter. 
Key aspects of the advice are as follows:
A designated isolation area should be identified within the school building. The possibility of having more than one person displaying signs of COVID-19 should be considered and a contingency plan for dealing with additional cases put in place. The designated isolation area should be behind a closed door and away from other staff and students.
If a staff member/student displays symptom of COVID--19 while at school the following are the procedures to be implemented:
  • If the person with the suspected case is a student, the parents/guardians should be contacted immediately;
  • Isolate the person and have a procedure in place to accompany the individual to the designated isolation area via the isolation route, keeping at least 2 metres away from the symptomatic person and also making sure that others maintain a distance of at least 2 metres from the symptomatic person at all times;
  • The isolation area does not have to be a room but if it is not a room it should be 2m away from others in the room;
  • Remember that the virus is spread by droplets and is not airborne so physical separation is enough to reduce the risk of spread to others even if they are in the same room;
  • If it is not possible to maintain a distance of 2m a staff member caring for a student should wear a face covering or mask. Gloves should not be used as the virus does not pass through skin;
  • Provide a mask for the person presenting with symptoms if one is available. He/she should wear the mask if in a common area with other people or while exiting the premises;
  • Assess whether the individual who is displaying symptoms can immediately be directed to go home/be brought home by parents and call their doctor and continue self-isolation at home;
  • Facilitate the person presenting with symptoms remaining in isolation if they cannot immediately go home and facilitate them calling their doctor. The individual should avoid touching people, surfaces and objects. Advice should be given to the person presenting with symptoms to cover their mouth and nose with the disposable tissue provided when they cough or sneeze and put the tissue in the waste bag provided;
  • If the person is well enough to go home, arrange for them to be transported home by a family member, as soon as possible and advise them to inform their general practitioner by phone of their symptoms. Public transport of any kind should not be used;
  • If they are too unwell to go home or advice is required, contact 999 or 112 and inform them that the sick person is a COVID-19 suspect;
  • Carry out an assessment of the incident which will form part of determining follow-up actions and recovery;
  • Arrange for appropriate cleaning of the isolation area and work areas involved
The HSE will inform any staff/parents who have come into close contact with a diagnosed case via the contact tracing process. The HSE will contact all relevant persons where a diagnosis of COVID-19 is made. The instructions of the HSE should be followed and staff and student confidentiality is essential at all times.
Of course, Staff or pupils should not attend school if displaying any symptoms of COVID-19.
On 27th August, the Department of Education and Skills published a document entitled Schools Pathway for Covid-19: The Public Health Approach. It is a paper prepared by the Office of the Clinical Director, Health Protection, Health Services Executive. It can be accessed here.
 
(Q) Will the Department of Education be issuing any guidance to schools regarding additional behavioural expectations and requirements in the context of Covid-19?
(A) During a consultation process in July 2020, ASTI advocated that the Department of Education develop a student Covid-19 Code of Behaviour template that can be appended to the existing arrangements applied in schools. This would focus on expectations in relation to key aspects of behaviour required to prevent the spread of the infection. We further argued that an effective communication strategy, that bolsters the covid-19 plans and procedures in schools will need to be in place for parents, teachers and students alike.
In September 2020, the Department of Education and Skills issued a template Health and Safety Control of Covid-19 Policy for Students.
In particular, it states as follows:
As individual circumstances and codes of behaviour may vary from school to school, it may be necessary for some schools to adjust the template having regard to the specific provisions in the school’s own code of behaviour and/or to their own particular circumstances. Every school should therefore ensure that any adjustment required is made prior to adopting and implementing this template policy. In that regard it is also very important for schools to be aware that any disciplinary sanction taken by a school against a student must be in accordance with the school’s code of behaviour and relevant requirements of the EWS guidelines on Developing a Code of Behaviour and the Education Welfare Act 2000.
 
The full text of the template can be accessed here
 
(Q) Will detailed guidance be provided on the particular impact of Covid-19 on particular school activities or in relation to the conduct of teaching and learning of practical subjects?
(A) During consultations in July 2020, ASTI pressed the Department of Education to develop individual subject advice to assist with the reopening of schools. They committed to provide more detailed advice on school activities in advance of school reopening. This advice has now been issued and is available at this link.
In addition, on the 1st July, interim public health advice from the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) in relation to the re-opening of schools was issued and addressed a limited range of such matters. It provides as follows:
Choir/Music Performance
Choir practices/performances and music practices/performances involving wind instruments may pose a higher level of risk and special consideration should be given to how they are held ensuring that the room is well-ventilated and the distance between performers is maintained.
Sport Activities
Schools should refer to the HPSC guidance on Return to Sport.
Shared Equipment
Art – Where possible students should be encouraged to have their own individual art and equipment supplies.
Electronics – Shared electronic devices such as tablets, touch screens, keyboards should be cleaned between use and consideration could be given to the use of wipeable covers for electronics to facilitate cleaning.
Musical Equipment/Instruments – To the greatest extent possible, instruments should not be shared between students and if sharing is required, the instruments should be cleaned between uses.
Library Policy – Where practical students should have their own books. Textbooks that are shared should be covered in a wipeable plastic covering that can be wiped with a suitable household cleaning agent between uses. Students should be encouraged to perform hand hygiene after using any shared item.
Shared Sports Equipment – Minimise equipment sharing and clean shared equipment between uses by different people.
 
(Q) Will Curricular Change and other initiative overload continue apace for the 2020/2021 school year.
(A) During a consultation process with the Department of Education in July 2020, ASTI demanded that the introduction of new subject syllabi/specifications be paused for the school year 2020/2021. We have argued that the new Art Subject Specifications and the new LCA modules due to be introduced need to be deferred. We made the point that the initiative overload of the last number of years could not continue this year.
Several of our objectives have been met.
“The Roadmap for the Full Return to School” issued by the Department of Education on 27th July states as follows:
Pausing Curricular Reform 
Taking account of the loss of in-class time at the end of the 2019/2020 school year, the potential challenges facing schools at the outset of the new school year, and the workload of principals at this time, it is acknowledged that this is not a suitable time for significant curriculum change, particularly at the start of the new school year.   
 In order to support schools in the practicalities of re-engaging with students, a number of key decisions have been taken to pause elements of curriculum change that were due to commence in September 2020.
At post primary level this pause includes the following:   Junior Cycle – Schools were originally required to increase the number of hours of Wellbeing provision at Junior Cycle from 300 to 400 hours from September 2020. They will now be able to defer this until September 2021.
Senior Cycle – A number of schools were due to introduce new optional subjects from September 2020, including Leaving Certificate Computer Science, Physical Education, and the Leaving Certificate Foreign Languages of Mandarin Chinese, Polish, Lithuanian and Portuguese. These schools will now be provided with the option to defer implementation until September 2021. 
Implementation in schools of the revised specification for Leaving Certificate Art will be deferred by one year to September 2021.
The implementation of a number of new Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) Module Descriptors will be deferred by one year to September 2021.
Also, at Senior Cycle planned consultation on new specifications for Leaving Certificate Irish is being deferred from the second half of 2020 to the first half of 2021. Consultation on a number of other Leaving Certificate subjects will also be deferred, including Physics, Chemistry and Biology, Arabic, and Latin and Ancient Greek.
Work on the NCCA’s review of Senior Cycle has continued throughout 2020 and it is envisaged that Council’s Advisory Report to the Department will be finalised around the end of the year. 
The Department will continue to work with schools to enable them to be agile and responsive in ensuring that pupils/ students can continue to experience the curriculum as fully as possible and to progress in their learning in an online environment in the event of an individual school closure or localised closure of schools. Additional guidance and online materials for schools in this regard will be issued before the start of the new term.
Included in the plan is a series of documents that deal in detail with the foregoing. They can be accessed here:
https://www.gov.ie/en/publication/7acad-reopening-our-post-primary-schools/#additional-guidelines-and-procedures
 
 (Q) Will there be adjustments made to the curriculum, individual subjects and/or assessment arrangements for the 2020/2021 school year?
(A) There will need to be considerable adjustments in the delivery of the Junior Cycle, Senior Cycle, Leaving Certificate Applied and Transition Year programmes for the 2020/2021 school year. ASTI pressed the Department of Education for detailed guidance on these matters and the following is included in “The Roadmap for the Full Return to School” on 27th July. It can be accessed here.
Post-Primary Level 
In the guidance at post-primary level, the Department recognises that welcoming first years and supporting their transition is a critical task for schools. The Education Passport for these students should have been received from their primary school to assist in planning for their educational needs.
Prioritising curriculum in the key skills at Junior Cycle such as managing myself, managing information and thinking and staying well is proposed to support these students. Maintaining the same and subject teachers and tutor groups where possible may be considered by schools as an effective way to support other post primary student group transitions. Schools are asked in particular to be flexible in their procedures around facilitating subject selections at fifth year.
The importance of student wellbeing in the return to school is recognised and schools are required to consider these matters in a “whole of school” and “whole of staff” approach. Notwithstanding the focus on wellbeing, the Department is aware that some schools are experiencing challenges in increasing the provision for wellbeing from 300 hours to 400 hours at Junior Cycle, so schools can defer the increased provision until the 2021/22 school year. 
Assessment for certification 
There is significant autonomy in schools in deciding how to sequence and pace learning for students in their schools and therefore the Department does not propose to centrally prescribe adjustments of the curriculum. It is considered that the most appropriate way to reflect the challenges that have occurred for students in 2019/20 and potentially in 2020/21 is to incorporate adjustments into the certificate examinations in 2021. 
Junior Cycle
  • The number of classroom-based assessments to be completed by those entering third year has been reduced and the dates for completion of some elements extended into the new school year.
  • Detailed arrangements in relation to the Junior Cycle certification examinations in 2021 will be made available before the start of the school year.
Senior Cycle
The Department recognises that some changes will be required to the assessment arrangements for the Leaving Certificate, Leaving Certificate Applied and Leaving Certificate Vocational Programmes.
A key consideration in making these adjustments is the need to maintain familiarity with the structure of the questions and assessment components for students and teachers. There will be no need to issue sample papers to reflect the changes.
The changes will be broadly proportionate but may vary, taking into account specific context across modules, subjects and programmes. In all cases they will involve some combination of: 
  • Students will be provided with greater choice in written examinations; this will be supported through the provision of additional questions and/or adjustments to mandatory sections on written examination papers
  • The dates on which coursework briefs are issued will be brought forward to allow for additional preparation time for students and teachers
  • In some subjects, adjustments to the requirements for practical examinations will be made; these adjustments will reflect the need to manage access to equipment to complete the preparatory aspects.
 Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA)
The Department’s guidance document sets out the curriculum and assessment arrangements for the LCA Year 1 and Year 2 students for the school year 2020/21. In the case of LCA Year 2 students it outlines the revised arrangement for the satisfactory completion of modules, student tasks, and final examinations.  
Transition Year (TY)
The Department, through this guidance information sets out how much of what is valued in the TY programme can continue to be a central feature in the 2020/21 school year. The programme is ideally placed to build on progress at junior cycle, allowing additional time as needed to identify priority areas for knowledge and skill development in senior cycle. It is also ideally suited to the use of digital technology and the guidance identifies ways that experiences in TY can be enhanced through practical planning tips. It also reminds schools to minimise the costs associated with this programme in the current environment.
Included in the plan is a series of documents that deal in detail with the foregoing. They can be accessed here.
Assessment Arrangements For Junior Cycle and Leaving Certificate Examinations 2021
On 21st August 2020, the Minister also provided an update for incoming third year and sixth year students who will be taking state examinations in summer 2021.
The documentation sets out the adjusted assessment arrangements for these students. The arrangements are being put in place to take account of the disrupted learning experienced by these students during the 2019/20 school year.
These documents can be found here
 
(Q) What will the inspectorate’s role be in the reopening of schools?
(A) The Department of Education have issued Circular 0041/2020 which sets out adjustments to school self-evaluation and schools’ inspection in the 2020/2021 school year.
It acknowledges the significant efforts teachers, school leaders, coordinators in centres for education and boards of management have made to support students at home during the period of school closure in 2020.
It clarifies the arrangements for school self-evaluation (SSE) for the 2020/2021 school year and notifies schools and centres for education that there will be no new requirements for SSE in this period.
It encourages schools and centres for education to use SSE to plan for and address the challenges involved in the return to schools and centres for education in the 2020/21 school year and/or complete SSE work that would normally have been completed in March-June 2020.
It provides information on the Inspectorate’s advisory, research and evaluation work in schools and centres for education in the 2020/21 school year.
A link to the circular can be found below:
https://www.education.ie/en/Circulars-and-Forms/Active-Circulars/cl0041_2020.pdf
 
(Q) How will Covid-19 related absences be managed?   
(A) The management of a COVID-19 related absences will be managed in line with agreed procedures with the Department of Education. ASTI has made representations to the Department of Education on this matter, particularly in relation to leave arrangements. At this time, ASTI understands that consultations are taking place between stakeholders at public-service wide level. When further details emerge, they will be posted here immediately.
 
(Q) Is the Department of Education making any provision to support all students, particularly those with special educational needs or suffering from disadvantage, in what will be challenging times after school closures?
(A)During consultations with the Department of Education in July, ASTI insisted that students should be given greater access to guidance counsellors and child psychologists as part of the schools reopening initiative. We argued for the employment of extra guidance counsellors and that the National Educational Psychological Service be further resourced to be provided a comprehensive service to schools.
“The Roadmap for the Full Return to School” issued by the Department of Education on 27th July states that 17 additional educational psychologists will be appointed to the National Educational Psychological Service at a cost of €1.25 million. It is intended they will provide for wellbeing of students including students in special schools.
The roadmap further provides for the recruitment of an additional 120 guidance counsellors.
It is clear that the usual services available to support school staff and students would be inadequate. ASTI has been assured that a suite of enhanced measures will also be available including:
Online access to guidance/resources and targeted support for students
Availability of NEPS psychologists – consultation with Student Support Teams/SET teams/subject teachers and parents
Availability of Support from the NCSE Support Service and the Tusla Education Support Service.
Further information can be accessed here:

Department of Education and Skills - Supporting the wellbeing of school comunitites as schools reopen: Guidance for Schools - September, 2020
Department of Education and Skills - Supporting the Wellbeing of School Communities as Schools Reopen: Resources - September 2020
Supporting the wellbeing of school communities as schools reopen: Guidance for schools - July, 2020 / Updated September, 2020
 
(Q) Is the Department of Education making any provision to support employee’s wellbeing in what will be challenging times after school closures?
(A) An Occupational Health Strategy is in place as a supportive resource for individual staff  members in schools. The aim of the Occupational Health Strategy is to promote the health and wellbeing of employees in the workplace, with a strong focus on prevention.  The Occupational Health Strategy comprises the Employee Assistance Service and the Occupational Health Service. The Employee Assistance Service (EAS) is provided by Spectrum.Life under the logo of ‘Wellbeing Together: Folláinne Le Chéile’.
Under the EAS, employees have a dedicated free-phone confidential helpline 1800 411 057 available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year providing advice on a range of issues such as wellbeing, legal, financial, mediation, management support etc.  Where required, short-term counselling is available to employees and their families (over the age of 18 years and living at home).  A bespoke wellbeing portal and app which offers access to podcasts and blogs on topics around wellbeing and mental health, family life, exercise and nutrition is also available.  In addition, online cognitive behavioural therapy is provided.   As part of the services provided by Spectrum.Life a Mental Health Promotion Manager is available to develop and deliver evidence based mental health and wellbeing initiatives to reduce stigma and improve mental health literacy and to increase engagement with the service. They will also be providing a series of webinars and presentations to promote staff wellbeing in schools as schools reopen and during the upcoming school year.  
 
(Q) What additional Circulars have been issued to schools to put in place arrangements for return to school for 2020/2021 school year?
(A) Circular letter 0046/2020 sets out arrangements regarding a number of matters associated with the arrangements for schools reopening. It can be accessed here.
Circular Letter 0049/2020 sets out key arrangements for employees on the re-opening of schools. It can be accessed here.
Circular Letter 0053/2020 was issued by the Department of Education. It sets out additional Supervision Arrangements for the 2020/21 School Year. It can be accessed here.
 
(Q) What arrangements are being put in place to accommodate pregnant teachers in returning to school for 2020/2021 school year?
(A) The Department of Education published “The Roadmap for the Full Return to School” on 27th July. It can be accessed here.

The Department of Education has also issued COVID-19 Response Plan for Safe Re-opening of Post-primary Schools on 27th July, 2020.

The Guidance addresses a number of aspects of the necessary arrangements for reopening of schools.

Some teachers may be unable to return to school. Current public health guidelines have identified these people as being in groups who are defined as being at very high risk. This will be updated in line with public health advice.

Among the list of people in very high-risk groups include people who:
• have a serious heart condition and are pregnant

The advice for this group is available from the HSE.

Circular Letter 0049/2020 sets out key arrangements for employees on the re-opening of schools. It can be accessed here.
Its key provisions regarding pregnant employees who fall within the Very High Risk group are as follows:
Very High Risk Group
The HSE advice on the ‘very high risk’ groups is here

The ‘very high risk’ group is currently advised to cocoon.

Having considered the HSE advice and information available on the Occupational Health Service website, an employee who believes he/she is at very high risk of serious illness from contracting COVID19 must complete the online OHS Covid-19 Risk Assessment immediately and submit to the OHS. This Risk Assessment Form is available at the aforementioned above link. The employee must inform the employer immediately or on diagnosis, that they believe they are in the ‘very high risk’ group. The OHS Covid-19 Risk Assessment must be accompanied by a completed ‘Report from Treating Consultant’. Where such a report cannot be obtained from the treating consultant within a short timeframe, a copy of the latest treating consultant’s report can be obtained from the employee’s GP. The Report from Treating Consultant template is available on the OHS website
Having considered the medical information provided with the ‘OHS Risk Assessment’, the OHS will provide the employee with a ‘COVID-19 Risk Assessment Report’ which advises whether he/she is at a very high risk of serious illness from contracting COVID-19.

For employees where the ‘OHS Risk Assessment Report’ advises that they are at a very high risk of serious illness from contracting COVID-19 and cannot attend the workplace, the Declaration Form at Appendix C of CL 0049/2020 must be completed by the employee and returned immediately to the employer accompanied by the OHS Covid-19 Risk Assessment Report. Where medical diagnosis changes, the employee must inform the employer immediately.

In accordance with DPER guidance, where an employee who is at a very high risk of serious illness from contracting COVID-19 and is medically fit for work, the employer should prioritise alternative working arrangements to the maximum extent possible e.g. working from home. Further details are available at paragraph 12 of CL 0049/2020.

Where an employee has been advised by the OHS that he/she is at a very high risk of serious illness from contracting COVID-19 and is not attending the workplace, the employer may appoint a substitute, paid by the Paymaster.

Where an employee who is at very high risk of serious illness from contracting COVID-19 and has been assessed by the OHS as medically unfit for work due to a non-COVID-19 illness, the terms and conditions of the Sick Leave Scheme apply.

An employee assessed by the OHS as being in the ‘very high risk’ group must be recorded by the employer under the OLCS leave sub-category ‘Personal Leave’, sub-category titled ‘Covid19: Very High Risk Group’ or on the relevant ETB system.
For pregnant teachers who do not fall into the category described above, no special arrangements are in place. CL 0049/2020 states as follows:

Pregnant Employees
Under the current HSE guidelines, a pregnant employee is not deemed to be at very high risk of serious illness from contracting COVID-19, unless suffering from a serious heart condition in which case, paragraph 10 of CL 0049/2020 will apply.
 
 
(Q) What arrangements are being put in place to accommodate teachers who have underlying illnesses but such illnesses are not specified in the Very High-Risk category for returning to school for 2020/2021 school year?
(A) The Department of Education published “The Roadmap for the Full Return to School” on 27th July. It can be accessed here.
The Department of Education has also issued COVID-19 Response Plan for Safe Re-opening of Post-primary Schools on 27th July, 2020.
The Guidance addresses a number of aspects of the necessary arrangements for reopening of schools.
Current public health guidelines have identified some people as being in groups who are defined as being at very high-risk. This will be updated in line with public health advice. 
A list of people in very high-risk groups has been identified and published.
In the context of returning to school for the 2020/2021 school year, ASTI has been working to seek to ensure that reasonable accommodations will be available within schools to provide for teachers who have underlying illnesses but such illnesses are not specified in the Very High-Risk category. These are those teachers who fall within the High Risk Group.
Circular Letter 0049/2020 sets out key arrangements for employees on the re-opening of schools. It can be accessed here.
Its key provisions regarding employees who fall within the High Risk group are as follows:
 
High Risk Group
The HSE advice on the ‘high risk’ group is here

An employee in the ‘high risk’ group who is not ill must attend the workplace, unless advised otherwise by the OHS.

In accordance with HSE advice, an employee in the ‘high risk’ group should take extra care to practice social distancing and hand hygiene. The use of face coverings and personal protective equipment may also be considered where maintaining social distancing is difficult.

Where concerns remain, particularly where an employee in the ‘high risk’ group has a role that requires close contact with pupils for prolonged periods, further advice can be sought by the employee from the OHS by completing the online OHS Covid-19 Risk Assessment available on the OHS website and submitting to the OHS.

An employee who has been advised by the OHS not to attend the workplace, the administrative processes at paragraph 10 of CL 0049/2020 will apply.
 
Following representations by ASTI, we have received the following clarification of the process from the Department of Education and Skills.
 
“Clarification has been sought regarding the review process for staff returning to the workplace in terms of the Covid-19 risk assessment carried out by Medmark.  In relation to the process underway a detailed questionnaire is submitted and received along with detailed medical evidence to provide further clarity with respect to the medical complaints in question. All of this information is reviewed by a specialist occupational health physician, with care and detailed consideration.  This includes an assessment of the combined and cumulative risk that can arise when an individual suffers from more than one health condition.
 
The risk assessment is comprehensive and follows the same process that is being applied across other sectors. There is nothing happening in Education that is new or different from other places of employment.
 
The outcome of the risk categorisation is in large measure governed by the HSE guidance.  However, Medmark retains the discretion to place someone into the higher risk group if they feel they have more than one complaint and that their combination of risks warrants a higher categorisation. No individual is placed at a lower level of risk than that set out by the HSE standards.
 
In terms of the employer, there is an obligation on them to go through the Covid response plan in the school and ensure that all appropriate risk mitigation measures are in place.
 
Where an individual feels that they have been placed in an incorrect risk category a review process has been put in place by Medmark.
 
Individuals should email Medmark to request a review as follows:
 
The employee sends an email to cork@medmark.ie  
 
In the Subject box they type in “Risk Assessment Review”.
 
They may attach additional medical evidence should they wish to do so and should include their name and date of birth.
 
The review will be undertaken by a team of four specialist occupational physicians who re-evaluate the medical evidence and deliver a consensus opinion on the risk categorisation.
 
If someone is considered borderline Medmark indicates that it is highly likely they will be given higher categorisation.”
 
(Q) What changes have been introduced for the 2020/2021 school year to enable Job Sharing teachers to work in a substitute capacity?
(A) Job-Sharing teacher may now be employed to work in a substitute capacity, during the period he/she is rostered.
Information Note TTC 005/2020 entitled ‘Changes to the Job Sharing Scheme for Registered Teachers employed in Recognised Primary and Post Primary Schools - 2020/21 School Year’ has been published. It can be accessed here: Information Note TTC 005/2020.
 
(Q) What changes have been introduced for the 2020/2021 school year to enable teachers on career break to work in a substitute capacity?
(A) In response to issues raised in relation to teacher supply, certain restrictions imposed in the Career Break Scheme have been suspended for the past number of school years. These restrictions are also suspended for the 2020/21 school year.

A teacher who is on a Career Break may now be employed, in a substitute capacity only, without the restrictions imposed in the Career Break Scheme as contained in Chapter 7 (Paragraph 8.1) of Circular 54/2019.

Information Note TTC 007/2020 entitled ‘Changes to the Career Break Scheme for Registered Teachers employed in Recognised Primary and Post Primary Schools - 2020/21 School Year’ has been published.

It can be accessed here: Information Note TTC 007/2020.
 
(Q) What arrangements are being put in place for teachers on the reopening of schools?
Circular Letter 0049/2020 sets out key arrangements for employees on the re-opening of schools.
It can be accessed here.
Its key provisions are as follows:

Pre-Return to Work Form
Each school must have a COVID-19 Response Plan in place in order to re-open safely. It is incumbent on all employees returning to the workplace to fully comply with their employer’s COVID-19 Response Plan. As part of this Response Plan, the Pre-Return to Work form is one of the measures designed to assist with the safe return of all employees to the workplace.

All employees are required to complete the COVID-19 Pre-Return to Work Form which must be completed at least 3 days before an initial return (the 3 day timeframe can include weekends). Employees should notify their employer if there are any changes to their circumstances at any stage.

Special Leave with Pay
Special leave with pay will be granted by the employer, for those employees who have been:

a) diagnosed with COVID-19 or
b) recommended to self-isolate

The employee must provide HSE/medical certification to the employer to include estimated date of fitness to return to work.

Where an employee has been granted special leave with pay, the employer may appoint a substitute, paid by the Paymaster.

Special leave with pay granted by the employer will not be counted as part of the employee’s Sick Leave record.

Similar to the general principles applying to the management of Sick Leave, the employee must contact the employer as soon as possible, in accordance with the employer’s normal absence reporting arrangements. Where circumstances or diagnosis changes, the employee must also inform the employer immediately.

An employee is not entitled to days in lieu of bank holidays whilst in receipt of special leave with pay.

It is considered good practice in maintaining a positive wellbeing culture in the school, to have appropriate contact between the employer and the employee during periods of leave. The nature of this contact should focus on the welfare of the employee and the facilitation of a successful return to work.

The Application Procedures for Special Leave with Pay together with information on Self-isolation, Covid-19 diagnosis and Restricted Movement are set out in Circular Letter 0049/2020.

Very High Risk Group
The HSE advice on the ‘very high risk’ groups is here

The ‘very high risk’ group is currently advised to cocoon.

Having considered the HSE advice and information available on the Occupational Health Service website,  an employee who believes he/she is at very high risk of serious illness from contracting COVID19 must complete the online OHS Covid-19 Risk Assessment immediately and submit to the OHS. This Risk Assessment Form is available at the aforementioned above link. The employee must inform the employer immediately or on diagnosis, that they believe they are in the ‘very high risk’ group. The OHS Covid-19 Risk Assessment must be accompanied by a completed ‘Report from Treating Consultant’. Where such a report cannot be obtained from the treating consultant within a short timeframe, a copy of the latest treating consultant’s report can be obtained from the employee’s GP. The Report from Treating Consultant template is available on the OHS website.
Having considered the medical information provided with the ‘OHS Risk Assessment’, the OHS will provide the employee with a ‘COVID-19 Risk Assessment Report’ which advises whether he/she is at a very high risk of serious illness from contracting COVID-19.

For employees where the ‘OHS Risk Assessment Report’ advises that they are at a very high risk of serious illness from contracting COVID-19 and cannot attend the workplace, the Declaration Form at Appendix C of CL 0049/2020 must be completed by the employee and returned immediately to the employer accompanied by the OHS Covid-19 Risk Assessment Report. Where medical diagnosis changes, the employee must inform the employer immediately.

In accordance with DPER guidance, where an employee who is at a very high risk of serious illness from contracting COVID-19 and is medically fit for work, the employer should prioritise alternative working arrangements to the maximum extent possible e.g. working from home. Further details are available at paragraph 12 of CL 0049/2020.

Where an employee has been advised by the OHS that he/she is at a very high risk of serious illness from contracting COVID-19 and is not attending the workplace, the employer may appoint a substitute, paid by the Paymaster.

Where an employee who is at very high risk of serious illness from contracting COVID-19 and has been assessed by the OHS as medically unfit for work due to a non-COVID-19 illness, the terms and conditions of the Sick Leave Scheme apply.

An employee assessed by the OHS as being in the ‘very high risk’ group must be recorded by the employer under the OLCS leave sub-category ‘Personal Leave’, sub-category titled ‘Covid19: Very High Risk Group’ or on the relevant ETB system.

High Risk Group
The HSE advice on the ‘high risk’ group is here.
An employee in the ‘high risk’ group who is not ill must attend the workplace, unless advised otherwise by the OHS.

In accordance with HSE advice, an employee in the ‘high risk’ group should take extra care to practice social distancing and hand hygiene. The use of face coverings and personal protective equipment may also be considered where maintaining social distancing is difficult.

Where concerns remain, particularly where an employee in the ‘high risk’ group has a role that requires close contact with pupils for prolonged periods, further advice can be sought by the employee from the OHS by completing the online OHS Covid-19 Risk Assessment available on the OHS website and submitting to the OHS.

An employee who has been advised by the OHS not to attend the workplace, the administrative processes at paragraph 10 of CL 0049/2020 will apply.
 
Alternative Working Arrangements
An employee who is medically fit for work and has been advised to restrict his/her movements or an employee at very high risk of serious illness from contracting COVID-19 is available to work remotely.

The work assigned to the employee should be determined by the employer, in consultation with the employee, and may include relevant duties that support the work of the school in developing and delivering its programmes of teaching and learning for pupils.

For teachers, these duties may include:
  • Liaising closely with and supporting the work of the substitute teacher(s) who becomes responsible for the teaching duties of the teacher on special leave with pay.
  • Supporting and engaging, using online technology, the work and progress of very high risk or extremely vulnerable pupils who are unable to attend school.
  • Participating in staff meetings, team/subject planning meetings and all other normal meetings using online technology.
  • Participating in relevant professional development through online media.
  • Developing aspects of the school’s teaching resources or teaching plans.
  • Undertaking administrative or other tasks associated with a post of responsibility (provided they hold the post in line with relevant DES publications) to the greatest extent possible using online technology.
 
Employee with caring or childcare responsibilities or living with high risk or very high risk individual
Special leave with pay is not available for an employee who has COVID-19 related caring or childcare responsibilities or for an employee who is living with a high risk or very high-risk individual.

However, an employee who wishes to avail of existing relevant leave entitlements is entitled to have such requests considered by his/her employer (e.g. Parental Leave/Carer’s Leave) in line with the terms and conditions of Department publications. When considering such an application, the employer must take account of the school’s policy on employee absences where the welfare and educational needs of the pupils must take precedence over all other considerations.

Employees who live with a very high risk individual should attend the workplace and should follow the HSE guidelines to protect themselves and to minimise risk of transmission. The implementation of the Return to Work Safely Protocol is intended to minimise the risk of transmission in the workplace.
 
Pregnant Employees
Under the current HSE guidelines, a pregnant employee is not deemed to be at very high risk of serious illness from contracting COVID-19, unless suffering from a serious heart condition in which case, paragraph 10 of CL 0049/2020 will apply.
 
Employee becomes unwell
It is important to emphasise that any employee who is feeling unwell must not attend the workplace. This applies to any transmissible illness during this COVID-19 emergency period.

Where an employee becomes unwell in the workplace, the employer should follow the procedures set out in the employer’s COVID-19 Response Plan.
In line with the HSE Contact Tracing Process, the HSE will contact any employees who have come into close contact with a diagnosed Covid-19 case via the contact tracing process. The HSE instructions should be followed and employee confidentiality is essential at all times.
 
(Q) Has the Department of Education committed to providing additional supervision resources which will be necessary for the successful reopening of schools?
(A) Yes. During consultations with the Department of Education in July 2020, ASTI demanded that additional supervision resources which will be necessary for the successful reopening of schools be put in place.

“The Roadmap for the Full Return to School” published by the Department of Education on 27th July announced an estimated additional cost of €40m to provide post-primary schools with additional supervision of students. This will be allocated to schools on a sliding scale to reflect enrolments.

On 12th August, 2020 Circular Letter 0053/2020 was issued by the Department of Education.

It sets out additional Supervision Arrangements for the 2020/21 School Year.

The details can be found here.

(Q) Will induction training take place before school re-opening for the 2020/2021 school year?

(A) Yes. All staff will undertake and complete Covid-19 Induction Training prior to returning to the school building. The aim of such training is to ensure that staff have full knowledge and understanding of the following:
  • Latest up to-date advice and guidance on public health;
  • Covid-19 symptoms;
  • What to do if a staff member or student develops symptoms of Covid-19 while at school;
  • the Covid-19 response plan.
Induction Training for re-opening schools in the new school year has been developed by the Department of Education. In addition, a range of posters have been developed for placement in schools.
This material can be accessed here.

(Q) Has any guidance been provided on lunchboxes, water bottles and the sharing of individual resources by students?
(A) Yes, The Department of education guidance for parents states as follows:
Your child can bring a lunchbox/water bottle to school, but they should be the only person to handle these items during the school day and should not share or swap their lunch with other children. This aligns with regular good practice to protect children with allergies from accidental exposure to allergens such as nuts. The virus that causes COVID-19 survives for longer on hard surfaces like lunchboxes and water bottles, compared to soft fabrics like clothing, so these items should only be used by one child and should be cleaned daily with regular household cleaning products.
Wherever possible, children should have their own individual resources, for example: textbooks, pencil cases, art equipment. Some resources can be shared when necessary, but strict adherence to the Department of Education COVID-19 response plans for the safe reopening of schools must be maintained:
Shared Equipment
  • art – where possible students should be encouraged to have their own individual art and equipment supplies
  • electronics – shared electronic devices such as tablets, touch screens and keyboards should be cleaned between use and consideration could be given to the use of wipeable covers for electronics to facilitate cleaning
  • musical equipment/instruments – to the greatest extent possible, instruments should not be shared between students and if sharing is required, the instruments should be cleaned between uses
  • books – where practical students should have their own books. Textbooks that are shared should be covered in a wipeable plastic covering that can be wiped with a suitable household cleaning agent between uses. Students should be encouraged to perform hand hygiene before and after using any shared item
  • shared sports equipment – Minimise equipment sharing and clean shared equipment between uses by different people
 
(Q) Can a teacher work in two schools during the forthcoming school year?
(A) Yes. The guidance issued by the Department of Education regarding this matter is as follows:
Education staff move routinely between schools in the context of substitute teachers, shared special education teachers and so on, and it is not possible to eliminate this movement entirely.
It is recognised that there will continue to be movement of staff between schools albeit perhaps at a reduced level.
In these circumstances the following should be considered:
  • a teaching resource shared between schools should remain in a school for a full day where practicable
  • a staff member shared across classes within a school should take particular care to maintain physical distancing, proper hand and respiratory hygiene in moving throughout the school
  • records of their contacts should be maintained as they may be needed for contact tracing purposes
 
(Q) What will be the procedure for those students who may be unable to return to school?
(A) Guidance is provided to support schools in making adapted education provision for students who cannot return to school because they are medically certified as being at very high risk from contracting COVID-19. The guidance should be read in conjunction with Returning to School: Guidance on Learning and School Programmes for Post-Primary School Leaders and Teachers which was published by the Department in July 2020.
It is important to note that a very high-risk student is one with an underlying medical condition that makes him/her extremely vulnerable from contracting COVID-19. Schools must be provided with a letter from a medical professional stating that the student falls into that category. The arrangements in this guidance apply to those students only. All other students are expected to return to school.
It can be accessed here:
Reopening our post primary schools 
(Q) What are the arrangements for holding full year/group assemblies and staff meetings in schools?
(A) Following representations by ASTI on full year/ group assemblies and staff meetings, the following note has been issued to schools by the Department of Education.
The re-opening of schools is a key national priority. 
As part of the suite of public health measures, limits were placed on gatherings in other settings in order to support the re-opening of schools which by its nature involves significant numbers of staff and students in school buildings. 
The public health guidance recommends 2m physical distancing between staff in schools.   
When organising staff meetings, school management should make every possible effort to hold them remotely or in small groups while maintaining a 2m distance and to avoid large gatherings including large full school/year group assemblies in one physical space.