TUI expresses concern for vulnerable students and teachers over removal of mask mandate

By piofficer, Tuesday, 22nd February 2022 | 0 comments

Following the confirmation by Government that face masks will no longer be a mandatory requirement in education settings from the end of the month, the Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) has expressed its concern for those students, teachers and lecturers who are medically vulnerable in terms of COVID-19 or who have family members who are vulnerable.   

The union also has concerns that the removal of the mask mandate and of other mitigation measures may prove to be premature and may result in further disruption to the studies of those students who are sitting the Junior Certificate, Leaving Certificate, college or professional examinations this year.  

The TUI notes the decision announced by Government today in relation to the wearing of face masks in education settings. 

We are concerned that the decision may be premature and has the potential to cause further disruption to teaching and learning. With daily COVID-19 case numbers in the community remaining high and outbreaks still occurring in many schools, the TUI had strongly advocated for a cautious approach and for the retention of key mitigation measures, including the wearing of masks, in education settings for the remainder of the school year.

Of particular concern are  students and staff who have underlying health issues that make them especially vulnerable in terms of COVID-19 or who live with family members who are vulnerable. Removal of such a key protection against infection will be an extremely worrying development for them and their families in what has already been a very stressful two years.

Many teachers, lecturers and students will choose to continue to wear face masks and the TUI will fully support and protect their right in this regard. We hope and expect that their choice and rights will also be fully respected and facilitated by school and college management, the relevant Departments and all others concerned.

We also have concerns around the increased potential for disruption to the studies of those students who are sitting the Junior Certificate or Leaving Certificate this year. Many are currently undertaking second components of assessment such as project and portfolio work and the Orals and music practical will follow at Easter before the written examinations in June. Maintenance of all mitigation measures would have been of clear value in minimising disruption and protecting the service to these students and to others facing high stakes examinations in Further and Higher Education.    

It has been the consistent position of the TUI that we will be guided by public health advice. This remains our position – notwithstanding our concerns – but the impact of this change on education settings must be kept under review.  

In our ongoing engagements with the relevant Departments and Stakeholder Groups, which have included Public Health Representatives, we will continue to raise the concerns of our members and seek to ensure that the necessary detail of any proposed changes will be clearly communicated and that necessary resources will continue to be provided.

We have repeatedly made the point that as a result of historic underinvestment by international standards, Irish schools and colleges have been forced to tackle the huge challenges of COVID-19 with large class sizes, over-stretched pastoral support systems for students and education facilities often unsuited to modern teaching and learning. Now that the pandemic has put this gross negligence by successive Governments into sharp focus, the process of appropriately funding the education system must begin by significantly increasing the education budget to bring us, at the least, up to the OECD average. We currently trail shamefully far behind.