All schools have been closed since March 12 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
THE GOVERNMENT HAS revealed its plan on how to reopen all schools across the country at the end of August.
The support package worth more than €375 million includes funding for additional teachers and special needs assistants, personal protective equipment and stepped-up cleaning regimes.
A planning document from the Department of Education was brought to Cabinet by the Education Minister Norma Foley today.
1,080 extra teachers will be added to post-primary schools at a cost of €53 million to help reduce class sizes.
Additional substitution, supervision, guidance counsellors and psychologists will also be included in the package.
Lunch breaks and school start times are set to be staggered, while the wearing of face coverings will not be compulsory in classrooms.
Face coverings will be compulsory for post-primary students when travelling on or waiting for public transport, with the exception of those with medical or special educational needs.
Bus Éireann-operated school transport services will fully operate in line with public health advice.
Each service will carry the same children to school every day. Pupils will be required to sit in pre-assigned seats and sit next to either a sibling or a child from their class group.
€52 million will be given to schools for “enhanced cleaning and hygiene measures”.
The government says this will be provided on a per-pupil basis. It is intended to allow for an extra four to six hours of cleaning per day in every school.
A further €4.2 million will be allocated for schools to implement certain logistical changes including setting up hand sanitising stations, putting up signs, moving furniture and changing classroom layouts.
In primary schools, small groups of children or ‘pods’ will be created in each class in an attempt to reduce the spread of infection.
Teachers will be grouped with pupils in these pods as much as practically possible, the government said.
Classes divided into pods should maintain at least one metre distance between each pod and also between individuals within each pod, where possible.
The government said the objective is to “limit contact and sharing of common facilities” between people in different classes and pods.
The aim will not be to avoid all contact between pods, the government said, as this “will not always be possible”.
Today’s plan was broadly welcomed by the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO).
The organisation said teachers and other school leaders “have had to wait some time” for the guidelines released today.
INTO general secretary John Boyle said: “The beginning of the academic year will be the most challenging ever experienced by everyone in school communities.
“It is imperative that the return to primary and special schools is an orderly one and that teaching and learning in a safe, healthy and supportive school environment remains the top priority for all in primary and special schools until the virus is fully suppressed in Ireland.”
€1.25 million will be spent on allowing schools to access 17 extra education psychologists through a national service to aid wellbeing, including those in special schools.
€75 million will be allocated towards capital to help schools prepare their buildings and classrooms for reopening.
Almost €85 million in additional funding will be provided to allow schools to employ replacement teachers, special needs assistants and admin staff.
This funding will be used in the instance where staff members identified by the HSE as ‘very high risk’ are advised to cocoon.
Additional funding of €41.2 million will be given to primary schools to fund substitute staff members.
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Education Minister Norma Foley said: “I am deeply conscious that children and young people have had their learning disrupted due to the global pandemic. So many of our teachers, our school staff and our parents and students went far beyond their normal roles to keep teaching and to provide learning experiences to students.
“Our schools now face another challenge, to support our students to return to and stay in school safely, to re-engage them and support them to settle in, and progress in their learning.”
Taoiseach Micheál Martin said the development of this “comprehensive plan” for reopening schools and keeping them open was a priority for this government.
Martin said that re-opening schools will be a “significant milestone”. All schools have been closed since March 12 due to the pandemic.
With reporting by Orla Dwyer