Fórsa’s Education Division yesterday (Wednesday) issued new advice to special needs assistants (SNAs) who are to be temporarily reassigned on foot of the closure of schools.
The union has called for SNAs to be deployed to support the students they normally work with, to ensure they have essential supports at a time of extreme stress. It says SNAs should give full cooperation to reassignments to:
- Provide enhanced supports to the children who are familiar with them, on a remote basis, to help them navigate an unfamiliar and difficult period of relative isolation and absence of familiar school supports and routine, and to provide continued educational supports to them throughout this period, and
- Provide new and additional supports to the parents, guardians and families of children with special educational needs, many of them working parents, who have been coping with school closures since 13th March.
Fórsa, which represents over 9,000 SNAs, says it fears the education department’s approach to the deployment of SNAs during the crisis risks exacerbating the educational disadvantage experienced by children with special educational needs.
The union believes it would be damaging to children with special needs if SNAs were to be allocated to other roles in the absence of adequate supports for their students.
The union also says confusion and poor communication from the education department and the HSE over Garda vetting reallocations has spread concerns that SNAs may be assigned to work with vulnerable elderly people in roles that the vast majority of SNAs are not qualified for.
In an email to SNAs yesterday, the union said: “Fórsa is particularly disappointed that the Minister for Education and Skills has persisted in making statements that imply SNAs will be allocated to nursing and medical roles, for which they are unqualified, in spite of his department’s assurances to the contrary.
“The union, therefore, calls for an unequivocal assurance that elderly people, other HSE patients and clients, and SNAs themselves will not be put at risk in this way.”
Fórsa has told SNAs not to undertake work other than the remote support role with students with special educational needs.
“This is necessary due to the lack of clarity on what other duties may be required outside of the home, and also due to the need to ensure that SNAs can only be asked to work safely. The union cannot accept that any SNA should be compulsorily reassigned as a healthcare assistant – a role for which, in the vast majority of cases, they are not qualified,” it says.
The union has also advised SNAs to continue, at all times, to follow the general HSE and Government advice on measures to contain the coronavirus, and to fill in the Garda vetting form that has been distributed in the context of temporary reassignments.
It is expected that further engagements with the department will take place next week.