Teachers who are pregnant have been advised to continue to work remotely when schools reopen on Monday.

In guidance issued this morning, schools have been told that pregnant teachers should consider themselves in the high-risk health category and should temporarily continue to work remotely.

The guidance, which was sought by trade unions, is likely to cause staffing difficulties for some schools, because the teacher workforce is predominantly female and young.

The stipulation also applies to other school staff, such as SNAs.

Separately, a letter for parents containing advice and guidance is due to be sent to schools this evening for onward distribution to parents. The letter is part of an awareness campaign being run by the Department of Education.

Earlier, Minister for Education Norma Foley said from Monday, there is a burden being placed on all of society to do what needs to be done in the intervening weeks to ensure there will be the full reopening of schools.

Speaking on RTÉ's News at One, Minister Foley said that "there is an obligation on all of us to do what needs to be done, to ensure that we are tackling head on Covid numbers and hospitalisation", which is why two weeks after next week's reopening of schools, there will be further adjudication.

When asked what would happen if there is a case of Covid-19 in a class, the Minister said the determination, as always, will be made by public health and no one else. 

She said no school management will have to make that adjudication, it will be made on the ground and no two schools will be the same.

She said Public Health teams are working with staff in the Department of Education, who are ready to assist schools. 

Ms Foley said tests from school communities will continue to be prioritised, that they will be red-flagged as they are processed through the labs and there's a helpline available for school principals which operates seven days a week. 

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The phased return to school is part of the Government's revised plan for dealing with the virus.

It will see Leaving Certificate students returning to school on 1 March. Primary school children from junior infants to second class will also return then.

Remaining primary school students and fifth year secondary school students will return on 15 March, subject to ongoing reviews.

All other secondary school students will go back to school on 12 April, after the Easter holidays.

In relation to antigen testing, Ms Foley said the World Health Organisation does not recommend antigen testing in schools and said there are mixed views as regards their efficacy.

Ms Foley said an Expert Group on Antigen testing will be giving its view on such testing next month and if it is the adjudication of health officials and health experts that antigen testing is required in schools, then the Minister said that will be put in place.

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Ms Foley said that in relation to children with special educational needs in mainstream classes, the phased return to school "has impacted on all of our student body including children with additional needs".

Minister Foley said in the interim, the Government recognised that work needs to be put in place to supplement the remote learning for these students and that the supplementary programme, currently in place, is being extended by a further two weeks for children not returning to school. 

Meanwhile, the Tánaiste has said Government "will not hesitate" to make the right decision if the reopening of schools causes a significant spike in Covid-19 cases.

Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, Leo Varadkar said the return to school is dependent on downward trends in Covid-19 infections. 

He said there was not a huge increase in cases when schools returned in September, which does give some reassurance.

But, he said, the new B117 variant, first detected in Britain, poses new problems because it transmits differently among children and young adults and the situation will be monitored very closely. 

Schools today started preparing for the return of 320,000 primary school children and secondary school students next Monday.

Mr Varadkar said that because the incubation period of the virus is between five and 14 days there should be a good indication of how things will look between day seven and day 16, which is why 15 March has been chosen as the date for the next cohort of children to return to the classroom. 

He said the politician in him and the "numbers guy" in him would like to be able to set exact metrics, but "we saw in December how quickly this can go in the wrong direction".

Mr Varadkar said decisions will be based on the trends of the virus, rather than exact dates and numbers. 

Ideally, he said, intensive care unit cases would fall to at least half where they are now, but that there are other trends to consider, such as the continued success of the vaccination programme and supplies arriving as expected. 

He said he understands that people are depressed and feeling fatigue, but it will be great to see some sort of normality resume next week. 

Every week seems to be the same now, he said, but there are grounds for optimism. 

Meanwhile, with three working days to go before reopening, primary teachers' union the INTO said that clear and consistent communication was needed as soon as possible to combat any uncertainty and confusion among teachers, pupils, and parents.

Parents have five days to receive and absorb any information they may need to help them plan for their child's return and a public awareness campaign for parents agreed as part of the reopening plan has already begun, according to the Department of Education.

Once the school doors open, however, the focus will switch to keeping them open.

The trade unions representing school workers are mostly satisfied with promised risk mitigation measures, such as augmented school Health Service Executive support teams.

They said implementation would be key, most especially robust contact tracing and testing so that the school- related Covid-19 cases that arise are dealt with swiftly. 

The principal of St Aloysius' College in Carrigtwohill in Co Cork said he is looking forward to welcoming some students back to school next Monday.  

Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, Sean Twomey said he is a little "cautious" about how things will go.

On calls from some teacher unions for air ventilation monitors, Mr Twomey said it could be very expensive to kit a school out with air ventilation units, so he would bow to the medical expert advice on ventilation and keep the doors and windows open. 

Tonya Hanley, principal of Lourdes National School in Inchicore, Dublin, said there are extra challenges in reopening, but it is exciting and staff are looking forward to seeing the children. 

"We have missed them," she said. 

Ms Hanley said she is heartened by the supports put in place and it will be important to adhere to practical guidelines around ventilation, especially in large classes. 

She said it is up to each school to seek funding under the minor works grants for air quality monitors or other equipment to aid ventilation.