Union buys surgical masks for school SNAs amid safety concerns

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The union representing school special needs assistants (SNAs) has started buying face masks for them because they say the State is not providing adequate protection.

órsa national secretary Andy Pike told the Oireachtas Education committee that this week the union had started to provide a stock of surgical masks to SNAs who could not access this equipment within their school.

“We were able to purchase a stock of these masks at a cost of 20c each,” he said, but he added that if they were bought by schools through the Department of Education’s bulk buying framework, they would be cheaper.

Mr Pike told the committee they were concerned at a “lack of clarity” regarding the provision of PPE to school staff and specifically to SNAs and bus escorts who could not maintain the recommended two-metre social distance.

He said public-health advice stated that face masks should be provided to SNAs where they could not maintain social distancing and where they were required to carry out intimate care for students.

But that led to a “ridiculous situation whereby an SNA works side by side with a student for over six hours but may then only receive the protection of a basic-grade mask when taking the student to the toilet”.

Nor, he said, could it be right that an employee working as a bus escort with 20 students in a confined space for several hours was not provided with a basic-grade mask.

He said there was a need for an urgent review of the Department of Education’s guidance on the provision of PPE to school staff.

Mr Pike said the risks of not maintaining a two-metre social distance did not solely occur when providing personal care to the student as the risks were present when the SNA helped with learning activities.

“It is the lack of distance that creates the risk, not washing and changing a student,” he said.

“The lack of adequate PPE has implications for staff assessed as being at high risk should they contract Covid-19. These staff have been advised to attend work with the risks to their health being offset using PPE. This is clearly contradicted by the advice that face masks may only be necessary when providing personal care to students.

The three teacher unions, the INTO, the ASTI and the TUI, also addressed the hearing to discuss the impact of Covid-19 on education and among the issues raised was ventilation in schools.

In the absence of more sophisticated ventilation systems, schools rely on keeping windows open to increase the flow of clean air.

ASTI general secretary Kieran Christie said if there was a severe cold spell this winter, schools may have to close, not because of problems in transporting pupils, which has been the issue before, but because schools would be too cold

TUI general secretary Michael Gillespie said ventilation and heating problems would occur during periods of colder weather and may force the closure of some schools.

He called on the Department of Education to take the advice of the Health Protection Surveillance Centre to install air quality meters in every classroom “to ensure that student and teachers are not forced to teach and learn in freezing cold classrooms”.

Online Editors

Source: Irish News