FAQs on the Re-opening of Schools

Updated November 19th, 2020

The ASTI continues to monitor Covid-19 issues in schools. We will provide information on this page as updates become available. The ASTI is demanding that the safety of students, teachers and everyone within the school community is protected.

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ASTI questions to NPHET/ HPSC

ASTI submitted a range of written questions and raised queries at a meeting with NPHET/HSPC. The following are the answers received to those questions and queries.

(Q) ASTI has sought clarification on the matter of the definition of Close Contacts and how it compares with that which pertains in wider society. The definition used in a school context and that which pertains in wider society is set out below.

(A)The following clarification has been provided by NPHET representatives:

The definition used is basically the same as used throughout the whole process of Public Health review of cases. But as elsewhere it is the Public Health Risk Assessment which informs the determination of the close contact. The Public Health Risk Assessment uses information from the case, the school and the community to inform the close contacts determination. In all Public Health Risk Assessments, we attempt to balance the risks with the prime objective of protecting the Public(‘s) Health.

DEFINITIONS

Novel Coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19)

National Interim Guidelines for Public Health management of contacts of cases of COVID-19

V8.6 19.10.2020

Close contact definition

• Any individual who has had greater than 15 minutes face-to-face contact with a case, in any setting. (< 2 metres distance)

• Household contacts defined as living or sleeping in the same home, individuals in shared accommodation sharing kitchen or bathroom facilities and sexual partners.

• Healthcare workers, including laboratory workers, who have not worn appropriate PPE or had a breach in PPE during the following exposures to the case: o Direct contact with the case (as defined above), their body fluids or their laboratory specimen o Present in the same room when an aerosol generating procedure is undertaken on the case.

• Passengers on an aircraft sitting within two seats (in any direction) of the - case, travel companions or persons providing care, and crew members serving in the section of the aircraft where the index case was seated.

• For those contacts who have shared a closed space with a case for longer than two hours, a risk assessment should be undertaken taking into consideration the size of the room, ventilation and the distance from the case. This may include office and school settings and any sort of large conveyance.

*A distance of 1 metre is generally regarded as sufficient to minimize direct exposure to droplets however, for Public Health purposes, a close contact definition of 2 metres has been specified (CDC). # If severity of symptoms or movement of the case indicate more extensive exposure, passengers seated in the entire section or all passengers on the aircraft may be considered close contacts.

Schools - Close contacts definition:

• Any person who has had face to face contact within less than 1 metre with a confirmed case of COVID-19 for >15 minutes in a school day.

• Any person who has been between 1 and 2 metres from a confirmed case of Covid-19 for >15 minutes in a school day with consideration of other mitigation measures e.g. face-coverings, pods, ventilation, IPC measures or uncertain compliance with mitigation measures in place (assessed through clinical PHRA)

Contacts are assessed from contact with a confirmed case of Covid-19 during their infectious period - 48 hours before the onset of symptoms if symptomatic, or 24 hours before the test for Covid-19 was taken in those who are asymptomatic.

(Q) What advice can you give on students taking off masks for drinks and lunch—how long can they take them off for?

(A) For the consumption of their meal and any post meal hygiene.

(Q) What advice is available on classroom ventilation?

(A) Our advice on ventilation is on the HPSC website. Common sense would indicate the use of breaks to air rooms and even in the period of change of lesson. Clearly the outside conditions will dictate the opening of windows. The Department of Education and Skills will be issuing further guidance on this issue shortly.

The link to the HPSC advice can be accessed here:

https://www.hpsc.ie/a-z/respiratory/coronavirus/novelcoronavirus/guidance/educationguidance/Guidance%20on%20non%20HCbuilding%20ventilation%20during%20COVID-19.pdf

(Q) The COVID-19 app is still giving messages to teachers, identifying them as a possible close contact to be told later that they are not in fact a close contact. This is causing confusion and upset. What is the current position?

(A) The information provided in the App when a close contact alert is received has been updated to include guidance for people in schools and healthcare settings and now includes the date when the close contact happened. This is to inform those who receive the notification, that if they were present in a setting that a Public Health Risk Assessment will be undertaken in, the App information is a further strand of information to inform the Public Health Risk Assessment – but it is the PHRA which will ultimately determine whether someone is a close contact. This is because it is a much broader assessment. This applies outside of school settings too. ASTI has been advised that the application of a standard approach is not equal to achieving a standard outcome, as situations are different.


(Q) Public Health need to clarify the lines of who is responsible for contacting parents. There appears to be different practices in different parts of the country. Please advise.

(A) This is done in discussion with the Principal. If the students are in the school setting, then the Principal is usually asked to contact the parents, as indeed they wish to urgently arrange for the student’s collection.

(Q) When a school contact parents to inform them that their child is a close contact of a positive Covid-19 case the student is frequently already on their way for a test. How can this process be better managed?

(A) It helps manage the incident better if the testing of school contacts is done in an organised way as it provides clear and accurate information to Public Health and the school. The testing is prioritised through the schools’ process, and the results are batched together to inform any further public health decision more easily. This is the process public health recommends.

(Q) Clarity on the time between having a positive case and being contacted by the HSE would be useful. In some cases, word spreads before schools get a call from the contact tracing team which leads to difficulties.

(A) Clearly, we will never be able to match the speed of the text result but the systems we now have in place are ensuring our reaction time is swift allowing for availability on both sides. Actions need to be taken on public health grounds.

(Q) What arrangements can be put in place regarding the holding of Christmas Examinations?

(A) ASTI has raised this matter with the Department of Education and Nphet representatives. The Department of Education and Skills have stated that they will issue guidance to schools shortly. In the meantime, the position regarding assemblies/gatherings/staff meetings in schools is as set out in a note issued to school in August 2020.

“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.”

(Q) Will the Health Protection Surveillance Centre now accede to a meeting with the ASTI as previously requested?
(A) Engagement is taking place with HSE/Public Health and Dept of Education and Education Stakeholders. Any issues which are not addressed or are specifically for the HPSC will be relayed from that forum to HPSC for response.

(Q) What exactly is involved in a Risk Assessment in schools once there has been a positive Covid-19 case identified?
(A) See schools pathway document for broad overview of PH approach. The PHRA itself assesses details of the notified case; the school setting; the community setting. For example with the case you would look for details of level and nature of symptoms; duration of symptoms in facility; understanding and ability to maintain recommended IPC (infection prevention and control) measures and respiratory etiquette etc. For the school it assesses pod structures; classroom structure, face coverings, distancing, ventilation, break times, activities, implementation and compliance with IPC measures etc. For the community it would take account of known or potential links with other cases/outbreaks/areas of concern etc.

(Q) Are there plans for serial/full school testing?
(A) No, there is no epidemiological or public health rationale for such a decision.

(Q) Are there now more risks due to waiting 2 weeks for level 5?
(A) Not for schools as measures already recommended and in place are designed to mitigate the impact and a decline [in community transmission] should happen when current measures under level 5 are implemented.

(Q) What is a definition of a close contact being applied? Is this in compliance with the guidelines from the WHO?
(A) The current contact tracing guidelines on the HPSC website defines a close contact. These guidelines have been developed with reference to ECDC and WHO recommendations. However the actual identification of close contacts follows a PHRA which incorporates many elements.

(Q) Is it possible to make a dedicated phone line available for schools?
(A) As stated at meeting we are intending to do just this but equally it is important that we have access to schools as rapidly ourselves.

(Q) Can the flu vaccine be made available for teachers?
(A) PH has sourced 1.4m doses of the flu vaccine to vaccinate the priority groups identified by the National Immunisation Advisory Committee and given to the HSE to base the free Vaccination Programme on. Teachers/school staff are not one of the priority groups identified as such a priority unless separately they fall as an individual in a priority group e.g. pregnancy. Additionally for the first time this year we are seeking to vaccinate all children with a flu vaccine (given nasally not by injection) to children aged 2 to 12. Evidence from elsewhere suggests a high uptake in children can severely mitigate the impact of Flu in the community.

(Q)  How many, on average, close contacts does a Covid-19 case in a school have?
(A) On average, the number of close contacts per individual case in the community setting is 4.4. For those tested as part of mass testing in schools the average number of close contacts is 5.

(Q) What is a casual contact?
(A) The current contact tracing guidelines on the HPSC website define a casual contact.

(Q) Why are teachers in some schools being told to turn off the Tracker APP?
(A) There is no policy to ask teachers to turn their App off in schools. The App identifying close contacts has caused some confusion when also assessed under the PHRA. This is the same for other congregate work settings. The principal is that the app information helps inform the PHRA, but as the PHRA is broader in what it assesses than the App, it is the determination from the PHRA incorporating the App data that are used. The HSE is in the process of updating the information on the App so staff in congregate settings e.g. teachers are aware that a different determination might be made following a PHRA.

(Q) When will the contact tracing in schools’ cases be undertaken in an appropriate timeline?
(A) Any person who has symptoms consistent with Covid-19 should isolate themselves and contact their GP. The GP will assess the need for Covid-19 testing. If they are confirmed then they are notified to public health. If not, they follow the advice of their GP pertaining to their clinical diagnosis. Schools have been recognised as a priority group in our society. To support this group HSE teams have worked to ensure the schools testing pathway is efficient and optimised. This includes the testing of the schools as groups, and thereafter prioritising these tests at labs. Our contact tracing service has been under increased pressure with the recent rise in detected cases. At present our contact tracing team are working to their best efforts to meet demand. In order to support our contact tracing team and ensure that contact tracing for the community and for schools is being undertaken in an appropriate timeline we are increasing our current number of contact tracers nationally through our recruitment campaign. At present we have increased our current contact tracing staff by approximately 450 individuals and 60-70 individuals will start each week thereafter to reach a figure of an additional 800 contact tracers recruited in total.

The HSE has created additional capacity by increasing the number of callers for its contact management programme. The backlog generated by the 5,000 cases over a 4 day period will be cleared by the end of the week, and on the basis that the numbers of confirmed cases stays consistent with current volumes, contacting the index case will be back to 24 hours. Despite the current demands, once it has been formally identified that a case of Covid-19 has occurred in someone attending an educational facility, this information is passed through to Departments of Public Health who undertake the PHRA the same day, or following if a late notification in most instances. As discussed, there are particular staffing challenges in one area of the country and this has led to delay in the PHRA. The HSE is urgently addressing this issue.

(Q) How long is the average amount of time before tracing commences currently?
(A) It is difficult to calculate the average time to contact trace at present. Once the backlog is cleared, contact tracing should be back to 24 hours (depending on the volume of cases).

(Q) How long for the completion of contract tracing is the target timeline?
(A) Over the past 7 days, the time which it takes from swab to lab result communicated to an individual is 32 hours. Contact tracing will commence as soon as possible after that individual has received their result.

(Q) How long is the average amount of time before tracing is completed currently?
(A) A PHRA is undertaken. This enables the most accurate and effective determination of the likely health impacts of a range of possible interventions, ranging from exclusion and testing of a small group or ‘pod’ of pupils, up to and including closure of an affected facility. The median time to complete all calls contact tracing calls in the past seven days is 3.9 days.

(Q) How many teachers and students in post primary schools were told to isolate as a result of suspected or confirmed cases since schools reopened?
(A) Any person who has symptoms consistent with Covid-19 should isolate themselves and contact their GP. The GP will assess they need for Covid-19 testing. If they are confirmed then they are notified to public health. If not, they follow the advice of their GP pertaining to their clinical diagnosis. This data are individual clinical data. Only household contacts of a suspected case referred for testing are asked to restrict their movements. Once a case is confirmed, the close contacts identified in a school setting are asked to restrict their movements. So far, as of 930am 22.10.20 a total of 12,490 close contacts across primary, post primary and special educational needs schools have been identified as close contacts and asked to restrict their movements and have been referred for testing.

(Q) How many clusters have been identified in schools?
(A) Clusters identified on the HPSC website, and the number of schools thought to have actual outbreaks or where intraschool transmission are very different. Very few school have been considered to have had intraschool transmission and approximately less than 10 schools where this is considered most likely currently. Where it has happened, the numbers of further spread have been very low – one or two cases mainly. Up to midnight 17/10/20 there have been 56 outbreaks in schools. For these cases it is felt that transmission may have happened outside of the school setting

(Q) When a case has been confirmed it will not be automatically assumed that a whole class will be deemed as close contacts. Why?
(A) A PHRA is undertaken. This enables the most accurate and effective determination of the likely health impacts of a range of possible interventions, ranging from exclusion and testing of a small group or ‘pod’ of pupils, up to and including closure of an affected facility.

(Q) Is it not now time to address this?
(A) No, because a PHRA is undertaken, as above.

(Q) There is no blanket policy on testing entire year groups and classes in place. Why?
(A) Because a PHRA is undertaken, as above. There is no evidence and no consensus of expert opinion that blanket testing of entire year groups and classes is of any value in preventing spread of COVID-19 in school. This is supported by the data in Ireland, where the positivity of contacts within the school setting remains low.

(Q)Is it not now time to address this?
(A) No, because a PHRA is undertaken, as above

(Q) 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 implemented?
(A) We have explained that the actual interventions required are as a consequence of a PHRA which takes into account local circumstances. The PHRA is standard practice across many areas of public health medicine. It is a clinical service to evaluate the broader relevant information allowing tailored, measured protection and prevention.

(Q)Is it not now time to address this?
(A) See above.

(Q) Should the physical distancing regime in schools not now be reviewed – should 1m be reconsidered?
(A) These issues re under constant review but as at moment no change is required.

(Q) Should a serial testing programme for schools be implemented?
(A) There is no rationale for such. The key way to control COVID in schools are all in the existing guidance testing only provides a momentary indication of the disease state and has a significant by-product of creating a false sense of security in some individuals. Also we have tried to not test children excessively because of the unpleasant nature of the test. At this time a serial testing programme for schools is not being considered. Any required schools testing will continue using the Public Health Risk Assessment and outbreak investigation process.

(Q) If not - why not?
(A) There is no evidence and no consensus of expert opinion that a serial testing programme in school is of any value in preventing spread of COVID-19 in school.

(Q) Should provision for any teacher in the high-risk category to either teach from home or have guaranteed reasonable accommodations made in school now be implemented?
(A) This is an issue for the Dept of Education and its Occupational Health Service. Expert advice has been provided as to safe IPC environment in schools.

(Q) If FAQS are being updated when can these be circulated ?
(A) They are on the websites and will be updated as required.

(Q)ASTI would like to be provided with weekly statistics regarding what is happening in schools? Is this possible?
(A) Contact testing statistics are compiled for primary and post primary. Case numbers are published as per HPSC. These will be provided on a weekly basis.

(Q) Can the statistics be compiled in age bands appropriate to secondary school students 12 – 18 years?
(A) We will try but our systems are based on international conventions which are not directly linked to educational ages which vary around the world. As of 22nd of October, a total of 4,040 individuals associated with post primary schools have been tested as close contacts. Of these 4040 tests, 79 detected cases were identified across the post-primary settings as above. Less than 10 were in adults.

(Q)  How many adults have been infected in schools or are suspected as having been infected in Post Primary schools?
(A) Less than 10 adults have tested positive for Covid-19 in post-primary sector following close contact identification and testing. 4040 individuals have been tested in the post primary sector as close contacts, 12.5% of these tests have been undertaken in adults.

(Q) Describe the Mass testing that has taken place thus far in schools. An average of 23 people per school in the example we have been provided?
(A) DES: From the 187 schools that had mass tests there have been an additional 87 detected cases identified over and above original cases Since the week beginning August 24th the data as of 09.30hrs Thursday 22/10/2020 identifies that a total of 453 primary and post primary facilities have undergone PHRA and subsequent testing of close contacts. A total of 11,776 staff and students have been tested across primary and post primary settings, with 282 positive test results (2.4% positivity rate). Across all education sectors, including CCFs and SEN schools, 14% tested are aged over 18 and the remaining 86% are under 18.

(Q) Why is there no temperature testing for adults in schools?
(A) Awareness of all symptoms for Covid-19 is required by staff and students. Anyone with symptoms should self-exclude. No one symptom focus would be effective. It risks ignoring other symptoms. There is no evidence and no consensus of expert opinion that testing temperatures of adults in schools is of any value in preventing spread of COVID-19 in school.

(Q) If not - why not?
(A) As above.

(Q) How long is the average wait time for a test associated with a case in a school?
(A) For those who have been referred for a test in the community settings, the median time over the past 7 days, from referral to appointment is 0.8 days. 93% of individuals who are referred in the community receive their test appointment the same day or next day.

(Q) How long after a test is the average time awaiting a result?
(A) For those who have been referred for a test in the community settings, the median turnaround time over the past 7 days is 2.2 days. In the past 7 days those who have been required to undergo testing as part of mass testing the time from swab to communication of result has been 22hrs.

(Q) ASTI wants engagement similar to that which was put in place with appropriate stakeholders in the Meat Factory situation etc. Is NPHET/HSE/HPSC willing to engage in such a process?
(A) We have said we are happy to meet through Dept of Education engagement processes.

(Q) The Covid App seems to be causing problems in schools by giving a message to a teacher that they are a close contact, but the PH review/assessment says they are not. Any thoughts on sorting this mixed message /issue?
(A) The PH risk assessment will take all elements into account more than the Covid App. We recommend that the PH review advice should be followed ahead of any data from the App. The HSE is updating the information on the App so all who work in a congregate setting, including staff in schools, are aware that a PHRA will make the effective determination of close contacts.

(Q) Serious delay from PH, in response to schools on issue of contact tracing/positive cases.
(A) We are working to ensure all schools are contacted as quickly as possible once a case linked to the school is identified. As explained no symptomatic person, staff or student, should be in the school setting. The incubation time for any new case of Covid-19 which could have occurred through spread of infection is up to 14 days, average 4-7 days.

(Q) Any chance of a dedicated phoneline for schools, out of hours.
(A) Our intention is to have for the beginning of the second half of this term 10 dedicated teams around the country linked to the PH departments as the focal point for the local schools, who likewise will require access to schools out of hours.

Varying advice being given by PH in different parts of the country, particularly around expected role of principals in contacting parents about testing issues. FAQs on this HPSC outline the general process. General role is to ask principals to send agreed letters/text to parents of close contacts, to ask them to collect children and await contact with the HSE. There will often be some nuances for the schools needs and across particular settings. This will be discussed with Principals as part of the engagement with PH.

(Q) What is the safety risk of students without masks in large close groups outside?
(A) It depends on the circumstances and how close or distant they are. Evidence indicates that risk of transmission outdoors is very low in most circumstances (paper by Mike Weed and Abby Foad).

 

Covid Leave

COVID-19 Special Leave Arrangements

(Q) Where can I find details of the Special leave arrangements available to teachers in the context of Covid-19?
(A) Circular Letter 0049/2020 sets out the specific special leave with pay arrangements for teachers. 

Additional useful information is available in a document published by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform entitled Update (28th September 2020) to Guidance on working arrangements during COVID-19 for the Civil and Public Service. It can be accessed here.

(Q) What are the details of the leave arrangements for teachers?
(A) Circular Letter 0049/2020 sets out the general requirements for application for special leave with pay arrangements for teachers. Paragraphs 4 to 8 of the Circular are quoted below in full.

4. Special Leave with Pay

4.1 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.
 
4.2 The employee must provide HSE/medical certification to the employer to include estimated date of fitness to return to work.

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

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

4.5 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.

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

4.7 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.

4.8 The special leave with pay absence must be recorded by the employer on the OLCS/relevant ETB system. Under the OLCS leave category, this is recorded under ‘Personal Leave’, subcategory titled ‘Covid-19: Diagnosis’ or ‘Covid-19: Self-Isolation’.

5. Application Procedures for Special Leave with Pay

5.1 An employee who has been HSE/medically diagnosed with Covid-19 or has been recommended to self-isolate must complete the Application Form at Appendix A to apply for special leave with pay. 5.2 The completed Application Form should be forwarded by the employee to the employer as soon as possible. The completed form must be accompanied by appropriate HSE/medical certification to include estimated date of fitness to return to work.

6. Self-Isolation

6.1 Self-isolation means staying indoors and completely avoiding contact with other people. This includes other people in the household, as much as possible. An employee with COVID-19 symptoms will be medically/HSE advised to self-isolate while he/she waits for a COVID-19 test appointment and test results.

6.2 The latest criteria for self-isolation and as updated by the HSE must be followed. The current criteria for self-isolation are here.

6.3 The employee must inform the employer where HSE or medical advice is that he/she must self-isolate. Subject to the provision of the appropriate HSE/medical certification and completion of the Application Form at Appendix A, special leave with pay will be granted by the employer and applies up until the COVID-19 test result is obtained.

6.4 The employee must arrange a COVID-19 test as soon as possible and must immediately inform the employer of the COVID-19 test result.

6.5 Where the COVID-19 test result is positive, the employee remains on special leave with pay and must be recorded by the employer as ‘COVID-19: Diagnosis’ on the OLCS/relevant ETB system.

6.6 For any non-COVID-19 illness, following the necessary period of self-isolation, the terms and conditions of the Sick Leave Scheme apply.

7. COVID-19 Diagnosis

7.1 The employee must inform the employer where he/she has tested positive for COVID-19. Subject to the provision of the appropriate HSE/medical certification and completion of the Application Form at Appendix A, special leave with pay will be granted by the employer.

7.2 The OHS advises that in a confirmed COVID-19 infection, an employee needs to be 14 days post onset of symptoms and also 5 days fever free (which may run concurrently) before returning to the workplace. It should be noted that the 14 days is from the onset of symptoms and not the date of receiving a positive COVID-19 test result.

7.3 These arrangements do not preclude an employee working from home at an earlier stage, if this is feasible, depending on the individual case.

7.4 The OHS advice must be sought by the employer, where an employee is absent in excess of the period as detailed at paragraph 7.2.

7.5 When the employee returns to work, he/she must be informed by the employer of the procedures in the school regarding social distancing, use of personal protective equipment and hand washing techniques.

8. Restricted Movement other than following Non-Essential Travel Overseas. 

8.1 An employee with no COVID-19 symptoms will be medically/HSE advised to restrict his/her movements for 14 days if he/she is a close contact of a confirmed case of COVID-19 or lives 6 with someone who has COVID-19 symptoms. This is to avoid contact with other people and social situations as much as possible. The 14 day period is from the last date of contact with the diagnosed person.

8.2 An employee who has been advised to restrict his/her movements must arrange a COVID-19 test as soon as possible.

8.3 The latest criteria for restricted movement and as updated by the HSE must be followed. The current advice on restricted movements is here.

8.4 An employee who has been advised to restrict his/her movements must complete the Declaration Form at Appendix B and return it immediately to the employer, accompanied by medical certification (GP/HSE) and to include date of fitness to return to work. Where medical diagnosis changes, the employee must inform the employer immediately.

8.5 An employee who has been advised to restrict his/her movements and is medically fit for work, remains available for work. The employee should be assigned work for the 14 day period and the employer must therefore facilitate alternative working arrangements to the maximum extent possible e.g. working from home. All employees must cooperate with all such flexibilities while they are restricting their movements. Further details are available at paragraph 12.

8.6 Where an employee has been medically advised to restrict his/her movements, the employer may appoint a substitute, paid by the Paymaster.

8.7 An employee on restricted movement must be recorded by the employer under the OLCS leave category ‘Personal Leave’, sub-category titled ‘Covid-19: Restricted Movement’ or on the relevant ETB system.

8.8 Where an employee on restricted movement tests positive for COVID-19, paragraph 7 will apply.

(Q) What leave applies under the terms of Circular Letter 0049/2020 if a teacher is in close contact with a confirmed Covid-19 case (household member for example)?
(A) The teacher in question is not on special leave with pay as this only applies to those employees diagnosed with Covid-19 or those with Covid-19 symptoms who have been medically advised to self-isolate. In this particular case, paragraph 8 of Circular 0049/2020 applies. The teacher is on restricted movement for the 14-day period, as advised by the HSE, and is facilitated to work from home.

If a teacher is restricting their movements, they may be asked to do the following tasks (section 12 circular 49/2020)

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.

(Q) I had a Covid-19 test and the result was negative. I have been advised to self-isolate for a further 48 hours. Is this Covid-19 leave?
(A) Yes. This should be recorded as Special Covid-19 leave.

(Q) I have received a text message from the HSE regarding a close contact or test outcome. Is there a need for certification from my General Practitioner in addition to the HSE texts to verify this absence?
(A) The Department of Education and Skills has committed to providing clarification on this matter in an upcoming circular and will also clarify the circumstances suitable for the submission of a self-certification form.

(Q) I contracted Covid-19. I still suffer some after effects and I am still on leave. Is this Special Covid-19 leave or have I now to use my ordinary sick leave entitlement?
(A) This is still part of Special Covid-19 Leave entitlement. ASTI understands that further consideration is being given to the matter and additional clarifications will be provided in a later Circular Letter.

(Q) What happens if a colleague or student is diagnosed with COVID-19?
(A) In line with the HSE Contact Tracing Process, contact tracers will directly contact all relevant persons who have been in contact with a confirmed case, or the person will be notified through the COVID Tracker App. The instructions of the HSE should be followed and employee confidentiality is essential at all times. Employees are encouraged to download the COVID Tracker App to their mobile device as this will assist with the contact tracing process. It should be noted that in incidents where a full Public Health Risk Assessment is undertaken, information from the COVID-19 tracker application is included as part of this assessment. However, the COVID Tracker App is a tool that is used to assist in generating the full picture. Individuals should follow any actions which are advised by the Health Protection Medical Team.

(Q) What arrangements apply if a teacher is a parent of a child who is self-isolating due to being a close contact of a confirmed/suspected Covid-19 case?
(A) If you are living with someone who is self-isolating and waiting on test results, you should seek advice from your General Practitioner as to what action it is necessary for you to take.

(Q) What if a teacher is suffering from another illness?
(A) Any non-COVID-19 illness will be recorded as ordinary certified sick leave and the usual rules governing sick leave will apply.

(Q) What documentation is required from the employee for special leave with pay?
(A) Circular 49/2020 sets out the necessary form at appendix A. This should be accompanied by medical/HSE certification.

(Q) What is the process for a return to the employer’s work premises after a positive case of COVID-19?
(A) Circular Letter 49/2020 section 7.2 states:

The OHS advises that in a confirmed COVID-19 infection, an employee needs to be 14 days post onset of symptoms and also 5 days fever free (which may run concurrently) before returning to the workplace. It should be noted that the 14 days is from the onset of symptoms and not the date of receiving a positive COVID-19 test result.

(Q) What if an teacher has had a negative test for COVID-19?
(A) For individuals who were tested because they had symptoms of coronavirus and receive a negative test result, they should continue to self-isolate until they have not had any symptoms for 48 hours. They can return to normal activities once 48 hours, without symptoms, have passed. The usual rules applying to certification/self-certification continue to apply. Note that this FAQ ONLY applies to individuals who were symptomatic. Individuals who are close contacts of a confirmed case must continue to restrict their movements for 14 days even after negative test results.

(Q) Is special leave with pay available for caring responsibilities?
(A) Any employee who wishes to avail of existing leave allowances during this time is entitled to have such requests considered by their employer, as always, including parental leave, carers leave etc.

(Q) Should teachers who live with very high-risk individuals attend school?
(A) There is no special paid leave available in these circumstances. Teachers are required to attend the workplace.

(Q) What Paid COVID-19 leave is available for long term substitutes?
(A) Where a substitute has a contract and needs to take special COVID-19 leave the Department of Education has confirmed to ASTI that they will be paid.

 

Department of Education FAQ

(Q) Has the Department of Education and Skills provided advice for schools regarding the scheduling of Parent teacher meetings and open days?

(A) Yes. The advice can be accessed here.

(Q) What information is available on the management of COVID-19 in schools?

(A) Following strong representations by the ASTI, the Department of Education and Skills have published information in the form of a Frequently Asked Questions document to deal with a variety of issues that have arisen in schools since reopening. It deals with queries such as what should be done if a student or staff member displays symptoms of Covid-19, communications, liaison with Public Health authorities, restriction of movements, testing, contact tracing, attendance at school, GDPR and other matters.

It can be accessed here.

 

Health and Safety

 

Resources

 

Additional Teaching Support

 

Guidance and Training

 

Curriculum

 

School Re-opening (General)

 

(Q) What oversight of the operation of schools is taking place to ensure that they are complying with the appropriate Guidance and Back to Work Protocols?

(A) A key demand of ASTI has been that there must be a system of oversight in place to ensure that schools are implementing the guidelines that have been issued to schools regarding the continued opening of schools.

Under the terms of the national return to work protocol, the Health and Safety Authority has this role.

In that context, a Memorandum of Understanding has been put in place with the Department of Education mandating that the School Inspectorate undertake this work on their behalf.

A pilot scheme has been commenced and a national roll out of school visits is expected in November/December.

The objective is that reassurance will be provided that a comprehensive Covid-19 response plan is being implemented in schools.

There are 10 separate items to be checked.

The ten aspects are grouped into four main areas:

1. Planning
2. Appointment of a Lead Worker Representative (LWR)
3. Provision of Staff Training
4. Implementation of Control Measures

Each main aspect is informed by a number of indicators. The indicators are the specific actions that a school should take in relation to the aspects. The full set of aspects and indicators is set out below:

PLANNING
1. The school had a COVID-19 policy in place prior to the reopening of schools for the 2020/21 school year a. • The policy contains all material contained in Appendix 1 of Department’s guidance b. • The policy is signed and dated by chair and principal c. • There is evidence that the policy was shared with staff, students and parents
2. The school has updated its health and safety risk assessment to identify the hazards and outlining the relevant control measures associated with COVID-19 a. • A copy of risk assessment that reflects Appendix 4 of Department’s guidance is available
3. The school has appointed a Lead Worker representative a. • The name of LWR is available. • A discussion with LWR shows that he/she is aware of the role and responsibilities of a LWR as outlined in Appendix 8 of the Department’s guidance c. • The LWR confirms that he/she has completed the training for LWRs
4. The school has ensured that staff have reviewed the training materials provided by the Department of Education a. • The members of school staff that were spoken to during the visit confirm that they have completed relevant training
5. All staff have completed the Return to Work (RTW) form a. • The principal confirmed that all staff have completed a RTW form b. • The members of school staff that were spoken to during the visit confirmed that they completed a RTW FORM
6. The school has procedures in place for dealing with a suspected case of COVID 19 in line with the Department’s guidelines a. • The school principal and the LWR are aware of the procedures for dealing with a suspected case b. • An isolation area is ready c. • Contact telephone numbers for parents are available d. • The school has a supply of PPE available
7. The school has displayed posters and other signage to prevent introduction and spread of COVID-19 • There is visual evidence of posters and signage throughout the school
8. The school has made the necessary changes to the school or classroom layout as required to support the redesign of classrooms to support physical distancing and to facilitate ongoing cleaning of the school a. • There is visual evidence of reconfigured classrooms b. • A sanitising station is available at the main entrance to the school c. • Sanitising stations are available at regular intervals throughout the school d. • In post primary schools, teachers, staff and students wear face coverings in line with current DE guidance/requirements
9. The school has made necessary arrangements to limit access to the school to necessary visitors and maintain records of contacts to the school a. • Sign in / sign out arrangements are in place b. • A Contact Log is maintained for visitors
10. The school principal confirmed that enhanced cleaning arrangements that reflect the Department’s guidance are in place.

(Q) Have the HSE set up a dedicated phone number for schools with specific queries related to a confirmed Covid-19 case?
(A) A dedicated phone number is being provided by the HSE for principals to ring in circumstances where they need assistance from Public Health in relation to a confirmed case of Covid-19 within their school community and have not yet heard from Public Health.

The phone number will operate 7 days a week, from 8am to 4.30pm Monday to Friday and from 10am to 4.30pm Saturday and Sunday. This number is specifically for school principals for specific Covid-19 related queries pertaining to a positive case in the school community.

The operator will take basic details and provide the details directly to the relevant public health department. The public health team will respond within three hours in most circumstances. Every effort will be made for a same day response, unless it is later in the afternoon when the response may come the following morning.
This unique arrangement has been developed to meet the particular needs of schools. The Department, along with the HSE, will engage closely with stakeholders to keep its effectiveness under review

(Q) Are there Dedicated School Teams to support school principals when there is a positive case?
(A) Yes. The Public Health response to schools in the coming term will be further enhanced by the HSE through the increased resourcing of existing School Teams in each HSE area.

These multi-disciplinary teams are being led by public health professionals and will be supplemented by inspectors assigned for this work to the HSE from the Department of Education as well as other staff reassigned from within the health services.

Inspectors will bring their expertise and knowledge of the working of schools to support these teams to communicate with schools. Inspectors will not be performing their inspectorate role while carrying out this work and will be operating at all times under the management and direction of the HSE.

Public Health team members will take calls and phone schools following identification of a positive Covid-19 case, and having been trained in Public Health protocols undertake the schools’ component of the initial risk assessment. They may inform schools of any further actions as required under the direction of Public Health. Assigned inspectors and other team members will respond to queries from the HSElive Principals line and take schools’ queries that come directly to the Department of Public Health.

It should be noted that under no circumstances will Department of Education staff be making clinical decisions. All clinical guidance will remain under the governance of Public Health. However, as part of this work, the school teams will assist with gathering the required information from principals to help the public health teams identify the school based close contacts. Close contacts will then be notified by school management, who will forward a letter or text from Public Health. HSE will then contact close contacts to notify them of their test appointment.

Dedicated testing of close contacts from a school when there is a positive case

Public Health has in place prioritised testing for those close contacts of a confirmed case within the school community.

Covid-19 test appointments are issued as a priority for school based close contacts through a specific schools referral process within the HSE. Public Health will determine when they wish the swabs to be undertaken. This may be ‘as soon as possible’ but it may also be determined for clinical reasons that the swabs should be undertaken in a day or so time. At the point of testing, swabs for the school group are sent to the laboratory as a ‘red flagged’ batch to be processed as a priority on delivery to the laboratory. The swabs have a specific school reference number to allow batch reporting of results for the particular school setting. This ensures fast turnaround times for testing and enables swift onward further public health actions if required.

(Q)What is the definition of a close contact in an educational setting?
(A) The HSE recently provided the following in relation to the definition of a close contact in an educational setting.

The Department is aware that the schools have sought clarity regarding the definition of a close contact in an educational setting. The Department has asked for clarify, and the HPSC, the agency with responsibility for this matter, has published the following definition of a close contact in an educational setting, as set out below. This has been published on their website. The Department of Education does not have a role in this process.

As per current HPSC close contacts guidelines a clinical Public Health Risk Assessment (PHRA) will be undertaken for all educational settings where a confirmed case has attended whilst infectious. This PHRA will determine the close contacts.

Close contacts definition:
• Any person who has had face to face contact within less than 1 metre with a confirmed case of COVID-19 for >15 minutes in a school day.

• Any person who has been between 1 and 2 metres from a confirmed case of Covid-19 for >15 minutes in a school day with consideration of other mitigation measures e.g. face-coverings, pods, ventilation, IPC measures or uncertain compliance with mitigation measures in place (assessed through clinical PHRA)

Contacts are assessed from contact with a confirmed case of Covid-19 during their infectious period - 48 hours before the onset of symptoms if symptomatic, or 24 hours before the test for Covid-19 was taken in those who are asymptomatic.

It is important to note that the response to confirmed cases or outbreaks of Covid-19 in the community or in a school is the responsibility of, and will be led and managed by, Public Health HSE. All decisions as to appropriate actions following a confirmed case or outbreak will be made by their teams in the context of a full Public Health Risk Assessment procedure.

(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 here.

(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.

(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.

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?
(A)
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 here

Further information is available at here

(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.

8. 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 AuthorityUseful 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 here.

  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 Lead Worker 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) What arrangements are being put in place for mandatory CPD for teachers for the 2020/2021 school year?
(A) Following ASTI representations the following information has been provided by the Department of Education and Skills.
Due to public health restrictions, support has to provided remotely using online platforms and webinars.

Teachers will continue to have access to release time and schools have access to substitution cover in a range of CPD areas. These include CPD supports relating to the Droichead process, supports for DEIS schools and dedicated CPD supports for teachers in a number of new subjects/new subject specifications such as Agriculture Science, Economics, Computer Science, PE and Politics & Society.

ASTI is still seeking to establish if similar provisions will be made regarding mandatory CPD associated with the implementation of the Framework for Junior Cycle.

Further details will follow when they come to hand.

 

(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.

 

 (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 here.

 

(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 communities 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?
(A)
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.

 

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