The Fórsa union believes the measures discussed on July 24 will boost confidence in the reopening of schools in late August.
The Fórsa union represents more than 15,000 educational workers, including school secretaries, caretakers and special needs assistants (SNAs) in primary and secondary schools.
Andy Pike, head of education at Fórsa, said:
“We have had a number of engagements with the department because the reopening of schools affects many students with additional childcare needs and thousands of our members directly. These discussions culminated in a long meeting this afternoon (July 24) with the minister and senior officials.
“These discussions have proven to be very constructive and we are now satisfied that the department has taken into account HSE’s latest recommendations on reopening schools on June 24th. This ensures both a certain social distancing and a separation in order to reduce the interactions in a school environment and to minimize the risk of transmission.
“In practice, schools will try to maintain the recommended social distance of one meter in the classrooms. Because it is very difficult to maintain this provision among younger elementary school students, these students are divided into smaller groups or “pods” as an additional measure to minimize interaction with other students and staff, thereby reducing the risk of transmission.
“In secondary schools, where this approach is not possible, the focus will be on a stricter interpretation of social distancing, taking into account public health advice,” he said.
“Certain issues for SNAs are expected to be addressed in the department’s guidelines, which are expected to be released next week.
“This includes clear advice on the use of PPE such as face visors, aprons and gloves for personal or intimate care of students, as well as clear instructions on infection control measures to be taken to ensure the safety of students and staff.
“Employees in special schools are recommended to use the HSE infection control standards when cleaning equipment and materials. In main classes, SNAs are advised on procedures for cleaning and disinfecting frequently used materials such as laptops, learning aids, toys and books. In addition, the guidelines state that thorough cleaning of schools plays a special role and is not suitable for execution by SNAs. “
Additional funds for improved cleaning systems
While the school sector is to be provided with funds of EUR 75 million to meet the Covid 19 challenge, Mr. Pike said this would be complemented by additional funds announced next week regarding the improved cleaning systems required in each school become.
“The combined sources of funding should enable schools to start improving access to hot water for hand washing, converting existing space to new classrooms, and making other necessary improvements to school infrastructure,” he said.
Mr. Pike said that this work may have started before the start of the school year, but the work may not have been completed when the schools reopened. He also said that the level of funds available may be insufficient and should be reviewed as the amounts allocated are also used to employ many more replacement SNAs, secretaries and caretakers.
Agreement was reached on the appointment of Covid-19 senior worker representatives from the non-teaching cohort to ensure that Fórsa members could perform this role when needed.
A problem pending
The problem of treating employees with underlying health conditions remains open. The union asked for confirmation of the continuation of special leave arrangements after the schools opened:
“It has already been found that school secretaries who are not employed in the civil service and are in a very high-risk category remain on the payroll when they cannot go to work,” said Pike.
“More details will be negotiated next week,” he continued.
“At the moment we are confident that no Fórsa member with an underlying health condition will be asked to endanger their own health. Further work is needed in the coming week to agree on the final terms of the procedures.
Important guidelines are dealt with in the guidelines
“The department has given clear answers to all but one of the questions raised by Fórsa related to the reopening of schools, and the remaining problem – in terms of underlying health conditions – is more than resolvable. Based on today’s discussion with senior officials and the minister, we believe that the guidelines to be released next week will address the key issues of dealing with social distance and the best possible protection of students and staff as much as possible.
“Your position on the use of PPE has evolved significantly, which will be the key to building confidence in school reopening, and we hope that the content of our discussions today will be reflected in the guidelines that will be released next week,” said Dr. Pike Castle.
SOURCE: Materials provided by Fórsa
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Fórsa clarifies the facts regarding the reallocation of SNAs
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