October 22, 2020
TUI survey highlights need for urgent action to protect high risk school staff – Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire TD

Sinn Féin spokesperson on Education, Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire TD, has called for the concerns of high risk teachers and school staff to be meaningfully resolved following the release of findings from a Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) survey that 1 in 5 respondents had an underlying medical condition of concern.

Speaking today from Leinster House, the Cork South Central TD said:

“I myself have heard many stories of the worries and concerns staff with medical vulnerabilities have been left to face since the schools returned. It is horrible that some in the school community are extremely worried going into work each morning for their own health.

“It is clear the system that certifies the health risks of school staff, Medmark, needs to be reviewed. The fact that the bar is so high to be deemed very high risk, and staff can only work from home when very high risk, is not good enough. 

“I have said before that Medmark is a blunt instrument, and there is a need for a more graduated approach which allows for consideration of each individual’s case.

“Keeping schools open requires teachers and staff feeling safe and supported in their workplace. Their health concerns must be taken into account, and staff must not needlessly be put at risk. 

“Particularly given we are in Level 5, there is scope here for high risk staff to be paired with high risk students, and for learning to continue online from home. I have written to the Minister, asking that she urgently consider implementing this.

“I share the concerns of the TUI’s survey respondents about the delays in testing and tracing in schools. I have also heard from many that staff are often not being deemed a close contact, even though they have been in close proximity to a Covid-positive student.

“It is clear that to keep schools open safely and sustainably, we need to not only do all we can to ensure that Covid-19 stays out of schools, but we also must ensure that it is identified rapidly if it does enter a school. 

“Minister Foley said 2 days ago that specific school tracing teams would be put in place, but there has been radio silence on this since. Testing and adequate tracing is crucial to giving staff peace of mind that their workplace is safe, and their concerns are being addressed.

“Next week, the mid-term break, provides a window of opportunity for Minister Foley and her Department to begin to address these and other issues. I hope that she will rise to this challenge, so that schools can remain open safely and sustainably in the weeks ahead.”

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