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Primary teachers’ union calls for delay in re-opening of schools in Ireland; Union wants schools to remain closed until January 11

DUBLIN: Primary teachers’ union say that the government needs to consider extending the re-opening of schools after Christmas holidays in the light of the alarming rise in COVID-19 cases in the country. Primary teachers’ union, the INTO, has demanded that schools be closed until at least January 11. The union general secretary, John Boyle wrote a letter to Minister for Education Norma Foley in this regard. There are indications that today’s cabinet meeting will also discuss this matter.

“The ability of schools to operate normally is likely to be seriously impaired due to the higher numbers of staff and students who will need to self-isolate and/or restrict movement in the weeks following Christmas,” the letter says. In some parts of the country, the shortage of replacement teachers is also acute. The letter also said that extending the opening of the school till the end of next week would give time to the school management boards to come up with better security measures.

“The number of positive cases identified as a result of mass-testing in schools increased steadily this month. About 700 primary school-aged children tested positive for COVID-19 just before the Christmas holidays. The new variant of COVID-19, which is 70% more transmissible has now been identified in Ireland. The number of referrals for COVID-19 testing in Ireland with GPs has also tripled recently. Last week alone, there was a 65% increase in GP referrals. More people are now being hospitalised with COVID-19 than there were last May,” says in the letter.

“The extra time would also provide government with the opportunity to launch an intensive public awareness campaign on the importance of safe schools, which was promised to this union at recent stakeholder consultation meetings.”

The general secretary said these issues should be kept in mind when considering reopening schools next month. Teachers’ unions and school managers are committed to ensuring the safety of students, staff and their families. The union said the government would have the support of 42,000 members of the organization.

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