INTO warns that the school system is creaking
Primary schools are creaking due to ‘skyrocketing’ Covid-19 transmission rates and a crisis in substitute coverage, according to the country’s largest teachers’ union.
The Irish National Teachers’ Organization (INTO) said the number of positive cases among primary school-aged children had tripled since routine contact tracing ended in late September.
A survey it carried out of nearly 900 primary schools found that nearly 2% (or just over 3,700 out of around 230,000 pupils) contracted Covid-19 over a 16-day period this month. .
The proportion of children testing positive ranged from 0.1% in Kerry to 4% in Waterford.
Additionally, the survey found that a substitute was unavailable for almost a third of the days when teachers were absent due to illness or self-isolation. This represents nearly 3,700 substitutable days that were not covered during the 16-day period.
On days when a substitute was available, only half of the positions were filled by a registered primary teacher.
INTO General Secretary John Boyle said the “spiking levels of transmission” in schools are “an indictment of the premature removal of testing and contact tracing from our primary schools, and of the frustrating failure to act quickly to deploy antigen testing.”
However, health authorities say the risk of onward transmission from undetected asymptomatic cases in school settings “remains low”.
A report from the Center for Health Protection Surveillance last week said that while there were 16 reported outbreaks associated with schools in the last seven-day period, most involved small numbers of cases.
He did, however, confirm that the infection rate among children aged five to 12 continued to rise, climbing to 767 per 100,000 from November 7 to 13, from 432 per 100,000 a fortnight earlier.
Education Minister Normal Foley is expected to issue detailed guidance to parents and schools on Monday on how the primary school antigen testing program will operate when it begins on November 29.
INTO, meanwhile, wants a review of the rules on wearing face masks, as well as the roll-out of vaccines for under-12s and air filters for poorly ventilated schools.
“The halt in public health risk assessments following outbreaks in primary schools and the resulting unavailability of weekly reports detailing infection levels from September 27 masked the escalating number of positive cases among primary school students and staff,” Boyle said.
“It is simply no coincidence that the number of children aged 5 to 12 contracting the virus has tripled since crucial public health supports were pulled from the primary sector less than two months ago.”
He said teachers and principals had been ‘abandoned’ and left to protect themselves and their unmasked and unvaccinated students from the impact of the strongest wave of infection in their schools since the start of the pandemic. pandemic.
Ms Foley, however, said her department had been led by public health advice and had invested record sums to provide risk mitigation measures and additional substitute coverage.