Written answers

Wednesday, 24 November 2021

Department of Education and Skills

Covid-19 Pandemic

Photo of Michael LowryMichael Lowry (Tipperary, Independent)
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117. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills if her Department will review the guidelines for pregnant teachers and SNAs who are working in the classroom given that the children they are teaching partially at primary level will be largely unvaccinated; if this review will take into account the increased Covid-19 case numbers and the increased risk pregnant women have of developing serious illness and health complications from a Covid-19 infection; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [58052/21]

Photo of Norma FoleyNorma Foley (Kerry, Fianna Fail)
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The most up to date guidance for the education sector was published by the HSE in July 2021 (‘Education Sector Guidance on Employees in the COVID-19 Higher Risk Categories, including Pregnant Employees’) and authored by the Civil Service Chief Medical Officer, Institute of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Public Health Medicine in HSE and Medmark Occupational Healthcare.

As with all other guidelines around public health measures, my Department has been led by expert medical advice provided by the Government through the HSE and other relevant public bodies. In the particular case of advice around pregnant employees, this advice was prepared in consultation with the Institute of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, the national professional and training body for Obstetrics and Gynaecology in Ireland, as well as other medical and public health professionals.

The HSE guidance for the education sector confirm that pregnant teachers and special needs assistants can safely attend the workplace in school where all the infection prevention and control measures are in place by implementation of the School COVID-19 Response Plan. This is the case whether or not the pregnant teacher or special needs assistant has been vaccinated.

However, all employees should apply to the Occupational Health Service (OHS) before the end of their first trimester, so that their individual medical circumstances can be assessed in the context of COVID-19. Those with underlying medical conditions may be categorised as ‘Very High Risk’ and be facilitated to work remotely i.e. work from home. The COVID-19 health risk categorisation assessments are performed by a team of qualified and experienced specialists in occupational medicine. Available medical evidence, including reports from treating consultants as well as vaccination status of employees, are considered during the OHS COVID-19 health risk categorisation assessment process.

It is of course open to a teacher or special needs assistant to discuss their individual medical concerns with their own medical team. Where their treating consultant has concerns over their fitness to work due to a pregnancy-related illness, then the terms and conditions of the Sick Leave Scheme (pregnancy related illness provisions) may apply, outside of the very specific COVID-19 health risk categorisation assessment by the OHS referred to above.

My Department’s Circular Letter 0042/2021 details the current working arrangements and leave arrangements during the COVID-19 pandemic for teachers and special needs assistants employed in recognised primary and post primary schools.

My Department has always been guided by public health advice in relation to appropriate COVID-19 infection prevention and control measures in place in schools. These measures protect students, their parents and school staff and are very effective to help prevent and control COVID-19 in schools. The vast majority of teachers and staff have now been vaccinated. The very high rates of take up of the vaccines across society has been encouraging and reassuring. My Department will continue to work closely with public health officials and the education stakeholders in respect of the safe operation of schools during COVID-19.


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