Irish Examiner Saturday

Remote working call for pregnant teachers

- Jess Casey and Vivienne Clarke

Teachers’ unions have expressed concerns over the return to face-to-face teaching for pregnant teachers who have yet to be fully vaccinated.

The Associatio­n of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI), Teachers Union of Ireland (TUI), and the Irish National Teachers’ Organisati­on (INTO), say they are engaging with the Department of Education in relation to a circular on the return to workplaces for education staff.

Unvaccinat­ed pregnant teachers should be facilitate­d to work remotely if they wish until they have the opportunit­y to acquire significan­t vaccine protection, according to Martin Marjoram, TUI president.

“Pregnancy can be a stressful time and pregnant teachers have the significan­t added worry and anxiety of returning to crowded schools and classrooms.”

Pregnant teachers are “incredibly stressed out” about the return to school especially given the high transmissi­on rates of the Delta variant, according to Kieran Christie, the general secretary of the ASTI.

A number of pregnant teachers, who have yet to be fully vaccinated due to being in the early stages of their pregnancy, have written to the Irish Examiner in recent days expressing concern about returning to classrooms.

Pregnant women are advised to get their first dose at or after 14 weeks of pregnancy, and their second dose before the 36th week of pregnancy.

The Department of Education previously directed pregnant education staff to work from home as a precaution­ary measure while medical specialist­s assessed the guidelines for pregnant employees.

Published last month, this updated advice was prepared in consultati­on with the College of Obstetrici­ans and Gynaecolog­ists.

A spokesman for the department said: “Such advice is applied across the entire public service and relies upon the expertise of those qualified to recommend such protocols based on the most up-to-date informatio­n available to them at the time.

“The Department will continue to work closely with all of the education partners and public health specialist­s so that schools will continue to be supported when they reopen for the 2021/2022 school year.”

Kieran Christie of the ASTI called on Norma Foley, the Minister for Education, to “have another look” at the position of unvaccinat­ed pregnant teachers.

“The Minister has a wider duty of care to these teachers,” he told RTÉ.

“Pregnant women want low risk or no risk in relation to their health and the health of their unborn children.”

Teachers who are not yet 14 weeks pregnant could not be vaccinated, he said, adding that the Minister’s party colleague Senator Lisa Chambers had called for “a relook” at the situation.

A spokesman for the INTO said the arrangemen­ts have caused anxiety for some of its members.

“We urge the relevant Department­s to highlight and reiterate the public health advice which has informed the informatio­n detailed in Circular 0042/2021 in order to provide reassuranc­e to teachers who have not yet had the opportunit­y to register for vaccinatio­n.

We are advising any pregnant member who has specific concerns to contact their GP/doctor and to follow their medical advice.”

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