Sinn Féin spokesperson on Education Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire TD welcomed calls from Fórsa to ensure SNAs are supplied with the necessary medical grade PPE.
Speaking today, Teachta Ó Laoghaire said: “Public health advice clearly states that proper PPE must be worn by staff in schools where physical distancing of two metres cannot be maintained.
“The reality is that for many SNAs, physical distancing at work is completely impossible.
“The union representing SNAs has identified that the recent HSPC advice is confusing and contradictory. It seems to suggest that medical grade masks are only necessary for SNAs when they are performing intimate care such as toileting and changing.
“This simply does not meet the reality that SNAs spend practically the whole school day in close proximity to their students, for example when assisting with reading and writing at close quarters. It needs to be reviewed and reconsidered.
“It also does not recognise the fact that in most instances, students with additional needs may not be in a position to wear a face mask. Thus, the importance of medical grade masks for SNAs is even more prevalent.
“Most schools are supporting SNAs well and providing the protection necessary. But I have heard of a minority of schools who are refusing to provide SNAs with medical grade PPE, in certain circumstances relying on this bad advice. This is not good enough.
“The severity of the risks involved is such that Fórsa themselves have had to step in and source medical grade face masks themselves for their SNA members. That shouldn’t be needed.
“School staff should not be worried about their own health and safety coming to school every day. The minister must show leadership here, and work with her health colleagues to clarify the advice as it relates to the unique role of SNAs.
“Children with additional educational needs missed out the most when schools closed in March. SNAs have played a crucial role in ensuring that these children have transitioned successfully back into education, and that they have not regressed.
“The department can show their thanks through adequately protecting SNAs in their workplaces, and providing them with the medical grade face masks they require.”