Additional reporting by Press Association
The planned reopening of schools and classes for students with special needs has been thrown into doubt after a teaching union said it has "grave safety concerns".
The Irish National Teachers Organisation (INTO) last night called on the Department of Education to "reconsider" the planned return to in-class learning on Thursday.
The union said teachers’ concerns had not been adequately addressed amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
Calls have now been made for Education Minister Norma Foley to produce an appropriate education plan for children with special needs, while talks are to continue today among unions.
Adam Harris, CEO of autism charity AsIAm, said parents and children need urgent clarity from the Department of Education.
Thousands of children across Ireland are not receiving the appropriate education which they are constitutionally entitled to
“We need to hear from the Department today, and from the stakeholders going to prove that service, how that appropriate education is going to be provided from today,” he said.
“There’s a reality this morning that thousands of children across Ireland are not receiving the appropriate education which they are constitutionally entitled to because they cannot learn remotely. This isn’t acceptable, we need a plan. Our children can’t wait any longer.”
In a statement on Monday evening, the INTO said a public health webinar for school staff had failed to adequately address “grave safety concerns”.
It said teachers are anxious while community infection levels remain very high and that Thursday's resumption should be delayed.
Health Minister Stephen Donnelly and public health officials took part in a Department of Education webinar for school staff ahead of the planned reopening of special needs schools.
Teachers, special needs assistants and members of the public tuned into the meeting which was live streamed on YouTube for anyone to join.
It had some 40,000 views by Monday evening.
"We will continue to be constructive and work with our colleagues in Fórsa and with the Department of Education towards the safe, orderly reopening of schools.”
Full update: https://t.co/n1VKW1dFRj
— INTO (@INTOnews) January 18, 2021
In a statement the union said: “Teachers are understandably and justifiably anxious about their own safety and that of their pupils whilst community infection levels remain very high.
“The public health webinar, organised by the Department of Education, following an Into call for up-to-date information, failed to allay teachers’ fears.”
It added: “We will continue to engage with the department and public health authorities in an effort to work towards a safe, phased reopening. However, up-to-date, reliable information and supports are essential if this effort is to succeed.”
INTO's central executive committee will meet on Tuesday to assess the situation further.
Fórsa, the union representing special needs assistants, is also due to hold an executive meeting on Tuesday to discuss the situation.