Teachers in ‘fear and trepidation’ of schools being open during Level 5 restrictions

Teachers are feeling “fear and trepidation” about the possibility of Level 5 Covid-19 restrictions being introduced while schools remain open, the general secretary of the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) Kieran Christie has said.

Mr Christie said the teaching union was keeping all options open and going on strike would be a last resort.

“There is fear and trepidation among teachers and the students this week about the prospect of society moving into Level 5 and schools remaining open,” he told RTÉ’s Saturday with Katie Hannon.

“For our part, we contacted the Minister for Education over a week ago when it was mooted that we were moving to Level 5.

“We asked for a comprehensive review of the health guidance and supports that are being brought into schools to determine whether they would be adequate or appropriate. We are renewing that call now.”

Mr Christie said the ASTI was in contact with the Minister, Norma Foley, in relation to the matter and would be “pressing hard”.

He said the safety and the welfare of teachers and students was paramount. Schools had reopened in circumstances where the number of coronavirus cases were a lot lower than they are now, and community transition was a lot less, he added.

“We are asking the question that now that we have the entirety of society moving to Level 5, are the arrangements in schools adequate given the change of situation?”

The ASTI has decided to ballot for industrial action over concerns it has over the safety of staff and students. “At the end of next week that’s the timeline,” Mr Christie said.

“We want to be in a position to act in an agile manner if it is necessary to do so in the context of the deterioration of the situation and if the safety of our members are compromised.

“Nobody wants to be in that position [of taking strike action]. But as a trade union we want to keep all our options open.

“It would be a last resort. We don’t envisage that would be something that we would be jumping to, but trade unions obviously have to have all of the supports necessary to support the positions of their members and obviously we hope we don’t have to go there.”

Meanwhile, the Department of Education released a statement on Saturday which said: “The Department of Education has ongoing engagement with the education partners including the teachers’ unions on sustaining the safe opening of schools, with regular meetings, most recently last Tuesday.

“This engagement will continue as the input of all partners in education is valued and underpins the approach taken by the Dept at all times including in the Roadmap for Reopening Schools.”