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Monday, 18th January 2021

Drogheda National Teachers oppose return to school of special needs pupils

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The Drogheda branch of the Irish National Teachers Organisation (INTO) has accused their Union’s leadership of failing to represent their genuine concerns and have demanded that they withdraw their support for the proposed return to school of pupils with special needs. 

They have also asked the Union to advise the Minister of Education and Skills that INTO members will not be returning to their schools until Covid-19 transmission in the community has been significantly reduced. 

The committee of the Drogheda Branch contacted its members today saying that they believe that the health and safety of its members is paramount and therefore it is extremely concerned that the General Secretary/Central Executive Committee of the union has agreed to a decision that jeopardises this in the extreme.  

In an email to members the local INTO committee said:

“This committee feels that our union leaders have failed to represent the genuine concerns of its members and has allowed a very one-sided narrative to prevail.

“Our members fully understand and are sympathetic to the difficulties that exist for children with special needs and their families, however endangering the health and lives of our members and their families is no solution to the problem. 

“Our union cannot allow the decisions made regarding schools to be at odds with the public health advice applicable to the rest of the workforce. 

“The core principle of any union is the protection of its members and the provision of a safe workplace. Drogheda Branch Committee believes that this union is failing in this basic duty and calls on our leadership to immediately withdraw from this Return to School agreement. 

“This is a critical moment in the history of the INTO, a moment that will define the leadership of this proud union and the support of its membership. Never before has our union had to contend with an issue of this gravity, where the health and lives of our members are at risk.

“As our branch is located in a border region, where the Covid-19 rates are consistently among the highest in the country, our members are extremely vulnerable.

“Therefore our committee calls on our General Secretary and the Central Executive Committee to stand strong, withdraw its support for this dangerous decision and to advise all members that they will not be returning to their schools on Thursday.”  

Labour TD Ged Nash has issued the following message to teachers and concerned parents of children with special needs who have contacted him on this issue during the day snfd over the weekend: 

"My Labour Party colleagues and I have tried extremely hard to work with government in a positive and constructive manner since the start of this pandemic.  A number of issues have been mishandled but for the most part the department and the government have been making difficult decisions in challenging times and we appreciate that.

"However their mishandling of this issue beggars belief.

  • The original announcement of a return to school was done with no consultation.
  • Last Wednesday, within minutes of the start of a Dáil debate on education, another announcement was made about special schools and special classes reopening which didn’t emphasise the number of obstacles that still remained.
  • Since then we’ve had an extremely ill-advised letter to all schools to be passed onto parents from the Minister which has been described as ‘political’ and ‘divisive’.
  • We have also had an emailed letter from the Department issued at 8pm last Friday evening which again gave the impression that there were no outstanding issues. 

"It is perfectly reasonable for any worker, or indeed any union, to demand to be protected. We are all especially concerned at the risks associated with the virus in Louth, given the very high rates of infection and the transmission levels in the community in our area.

"It is also perfectly reasonable for any parent, especially a parent of a child with additional needs, to demand education for that child.

"The resolution of the issue will not come from self-congratulatory press releases or misleading statements.

The executive committees of the various unions are meeting today and tomorrow.  We have asked the department to engage positively with them and to address their concerns."

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