The Central Executive Committee (CEC) of the Irish National Teachers' Organisation has said the "grave safety concerns" of teachers have not been adequately addressed.

Following an emergency meeting, the CEC called on the Department of Education to reconsider its plan to resume in-school special education this week.

In a statement, the INTO said teachers had serious concerns about the public health advice provided at today's webinar in relation to the planned limited reopening of special education.

It said teachers are understandably and justifiably anxious about their own safety and that of their pupils while community infection levels remain very high.

The Public Health Webinar, organised by the Department of Education following an INTO call for up-to-date information, failed to allay teachers' fears, the union said.

"We will continue to engage with the department and public health authorities in an effort to work towards a safe, phased reopening. However, up-to-date, reliable information and supports are essential if this effort is to succeed."

INTO's CEC will meet once again tomorrow to assess the situation further.

The union's President Mary Magner said: "I know this is the last thing teachers want to be worrying about as they exhaustively strive to support pupils remotely.

"We have heard the concerns of teachers in recent days and, while teachers across the country are keen to get back to the classroom, they are scared. Teachers are committed to supporting their vulnerable pupils but the safety of staff is vital."

INTO General Secretary John Boyle said: "Today's webinar did not address teachers' concerns. The Government must take responsibility for poor and untimely communication and mixed messages over the past two weeks.

"The failure of Minister [Norma] Foley and Minister [Josepha] Madigan to engage in proper consultation in the last two weeks has been very damaging and it has hampered the planning for the safe reopening of schools.

"We have made progress on some of our key concerns in recent days, but there is more work to be done to ensure the safety of staff, pupils and their families, including a higher prioritisation of education staff for vaccination.

"We will continue to be constructive and work with our colleagues in Fórsa and with the Department of Education towards the safe, orderly reopening of schools."

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The Department of Education earlier said that further guidance in relation to the position of special education school workers who are in a high risk category or are pregnant will be issued in the coming days.

Health officials took part in a webinar for school staff today in advance of plans to reopen special schools.

5,000 Special Needs Assistants (SNAs), special education teachers, and school principals joined the webinar on Zoom, with an additional 11,000 people tuning in on YouTube.

They viewed data which shows that the level of Covid-19 being detected among children using creches is well below the level of the general community.

Dr Kevin Kelleher of the Health Service Executive told the webinar that while the new variant of the virus was more transmissible, the safety measures currently recommended for schools were still applicable and would protect people.

Dr Abigail Collins, a public health specialist, acknowledged that there was no such thing as "risk free" and that partially reopening schools was about achieving an appropriate risk balance.

As the meeting went on, highly negative comments were made by those who were listening, reflecting the level of anxiety and anger that is being felt by many teachers, SNAs and others involved in special education.