Up to 4,000 children with additional educational needs have returned to in-person education as special schools throughout the country reopened their doors.

Under a plan agreed between the Department of Education and teacher and SNA trade unions, 124 special schools are reopening, initially, with 50% of students attending in turn on different days.

They are being joined in their classrooms by up to 4,000 teachers and Special Needs Assistants.

The schools cater for more than 8,000 students in total.

Earlier plans to reopen special schools in January collapsed after the Department of Education failed to secure the agreement of trade unions representing SNAs and teachers.

A resolution was subsequently reached following negotiations and agreement of additional supports for schools and workers.

Special classes in mainstream primary and secondary schools are due to reopen on Monday 22 February following a deal signed off on last night between post-primary teacher unions, the ASTI and the TUI, and Fórsa which represents SNAs.

More than 10,000 students with additional educational needs attend special classes at either primary or post-primary level.

Commenting on today's reopening, the National Association of Boards of Management in Special Education said special schools were ready and keen to reopen.

Chairperson Caroline Quinn said, however, that the view among parents was mixed, with some looking for further reassurance before committing to sending their children back.

Others whose children have medical conditions that make them especially vulnerable have opted to keep them at home.

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There are 1,231 special classes at primary level catering for 7,520 students which will open on 22 February.

They are supported by 3,819 teachers and SNAs. There are an additional 515 special post-primary classes catering for 2,808 students with 1,739 teachers and SNAs.

No agreement has as yet been reached regarding students in mainstream classes at either primary or post-primary level who have additional needs.

Minister for Education Norma Foley and Minister of State with responsibility for Special Education and Inclusion Josepha Madigan both welcomed last night's agreement with the ASTI, the TUI and Fórsa which will see the return to in-person learning of post-primary students in special classes.

They said it remained a priority to agree a shared pathway to in-school learning for children with special educational needs in mainstream classes as soon as possible.

The Department of Education said that special classes at both post-primary and primary level would be supported in their return by enhanced school teams put in place by the Health Service Executive and the department.

It said that intensive engagement was continuing with education stakeholders towards a full return of all students to in-person teaching and learning in primary and post-primary schools "as soon as possible and when it is safe to do so".

The Teachers' Union of Ireland, meanwhile, has said that it is willing to facilitate the return of Leaving Certificate students from some point in the same week - beginning 22 February - subject to public health advice.

However, a decision has yet to be made, and full agreement reached, on any further return. Key to any such decision will be public health advice.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin said Leaving Certificate students should know next week what the situation is regarding exams.