School and COVID-19


In September 2021, schools opened for the 2021-2022 school year.

The Department of Education published information on returning to school for parents and children for September 2021. It has updated COVID-19 response plan for primary and special schools and for post primary schools to reduce the risk of infection in schools.

The Department provides advice and resources for parents and students to support them during COVID-19.

Children attending school

During the school year 2021-2022, schools will continue to operate the infection prevention and control measures in place last year. The approach is led by HSE public health advice.

The Department has published practical steps on ventilation in schools (pdf) and carbon dioxide monitors will be distributed to schools.

Students at school must keep their physical distance from one another outside of the classroom and work within the classroom in designated groupings or ‘bubbles’.

Schools will operate:

  • Good hand washing and sanitising practice
  • Enhanced cleaning regimes
  • Staggered breaks and lunch times

Classrooms, PE halls and other spaces can be arranged to maximise school spaces for safe learning.

Your child should not attend school if they are displaying any symptoms of COVID-19 - see 'When to keep your child home from school' below.

If there is a COVID-19 case in a primary school there is:

  • No automatic contact tracing
  • No testing of close contacts who show no symptoms of COVID-19

The National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS) has developed webinars and wellbeing toolkits for primary and post-primary schools to support the school community in the return to school.

When to keep your child home from school

Children with no symptoms do not have to stay home from school if they are fully vaccinated or have had a positive test in the last 9 months.

If your child is aged 13 or over (or any age in a special education setting) you should not send your child to school if they have:

  • Symptoms of COVID-19
  • Been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19
  • Been living with someone who is unwell and may have COVID-19

If your child is aged 12 or under, you should not send your child to school if they:

  • Have symptoms of COVID-19
  • Are identified as a household contact of someone with COVID-19
  • Have been living with someone who is unwell and may have COVID-19

If your child shows symptoms of COVID-19, they must stay home from school and get a COVID-19 test. Your child can return to school if their test result is negative and your family has followed all public health guidance on keeping your child at home.

If your child is aged 12 or under and is identified as a close contact in primary school or outside a household setting, and shows no symptoms of COVID-19, they do not have to restrict their movements and can go to school.

You can read more on the HSE website on when to keep your child home.

Read about how to restrict your movements and self-isolate.

If your GP sends your child for a COVID-19 test, your child should remain at home until they get a negative (not detected) test result.

  • If they get a negative (not detected) test result, your child can return to school when their symptoms are clear.
  • If they get a positive test result, your child must self-isolate. Public health will provide guidance on the next steps to follow
  • You can read HSE guide for parents (pdf)

If you have travelled abroad recently, you should follow the international travel guidelines in place for you and your children.

Read HSE guidance on protecting your child from COVID-19.

Staying safe at school

Guidance and supports for schools is contained in the Department of Education’s Reopening our schools: The roadmap for the full return to school.

All schools have put in place rules and routines which must be followed to keep everyone safe. These include:

  • School drop off and collection
  • Hand washing and hygiene
  • Face coverings
  • Maintaining physical distancing
  • Classrooms, bubbles and pods
  • Play and break times

School drop off and collection

  • Many schools have staggered drop off and pick up times. Students should not gather when they arrive but go straight to their small designated group or classroom
  • Parents and staff should maintain a distance of 2 metres. Walking and cycling to school is encouraged.

Hand washing and hygiene at school

Staff and students should maintain hand hygiene throughout the school day.

Wash basins and hand sanitiser can be used. However, young children should not have independent use of alcohol gel containers.

Students and staff should wash hands:

  • On arrival at school
  • Before eating or drinking
  • After using the toilet
  • After playing outdoors
  • When their hands are physically dirty
  • When they cough or sneeze
  • Moving between classes for post-primary students

Read more on control measures for reopening schools safely (pdf) on

Face coverings

In primary schools, children are not required to wear face coverings. Teachers must wear face covering if they cannot keep 2 metres apart.

In secondary schools, teachers and students must wear face coverings, when a physical distance of 2 metres cannot be maintained.

All Special Needs Assistants (SNAs) must wear face coverings, or in certain situations clear visors in the class room.

Maintaining physical distancing at school

Primary and special schools

Schools will arrange class spaces to maximise physical distancing. The classrooms will be clear of unnecessary furniture, shelves and material on the walls. The following physical distancing measures should be followed:

  • 1 metre distance should be maintained between desks or between individual students
  • The teacher’s desk should be at least 1 metre (where possible 2 metres) away from a student’s desk
  • Teachers should avoid close contact at face to face level with students
  • Teachers should maintain a 2 metre distance in staff rooms and staff groups and should wear a face covering where they cannot maintain distance
  • Where possible desks should consistently be used by the same staff and children.

The response plan recognises that younger children are unlikely to maintain physical distancing indoors.


At post-primary, schools can take a common sense approach to decreasing the contact between students. The following physical distancing measures should be followed:

  • Students and teachers should limit their interaction when moving between class, in hallways and other shared areas
  • Student’s desks should be 2 metre distance apart but at least 1 metre distance from individual students or staff
  • Teachers should maintain a 2 metre distance in staff rooms and staff

Classrooms, bubbles and pods

Primary school and special schools

Students may be grouped into class ‘bubbles’ and ‘pods’. A ‘bubble’ is a class grouping which stays apart from other classes as much as possible. Your child may be in smaller group or ‘pod’ within the class bubble.

While your child is in a class grouping or bubble they mix only with their own class from arrival at school in the morning until they leave at the end of the school day.

There should be at least 1 metre distance between individual pods within the class bubble and between individuals in the pod, whenever possible.

Students and teachers should be consistently in the same class bubble although this will not be possible at all times.

Each class bubble should have separate breaks and meal times or separate areas at break or meal times.

Post primary schools

In addition to re-organising class spaces and maximising physical distancing, schools may:

  • Review timetables
  • Reconfigure classes
  • Consider use of live streaming within the school
  • Use available spaces within the local community

Students should be assigned to a main class cohort, where possible. They will remain in the classroom for most subjects, with teachers moving between rooms. Classes are planned to minimise movement during the day.

If your child has an elective subject they should move quickly to the new class and sit with members of their class cohort, while maintaining physical distance.

All students and staff should avoid sharing educational material or personal items such as pens, pencil cases and notebooks. Contact areas of devices such as keyboards or tablets should be cleaned regularly.

Staff and students should limit meeting in hallways and shared areas. Hand to hand greetings and hugs should be discouraged. Where students need to move within the classroom to perform activities or share a resource it should be organised to minimise students meeting at the same time.

Play and break times

Primary schools and special schools, should have staggered breaks and adjust playtime to:

  • Reduce crowding at the entrances and exits
  • Keep students in consistent groups when they play together, where it is not possible to maintain physical distancing
  • Minimise sharing of equipment

Schools that run a canteen should:

  • Make sure physical distancing is applied
  • Stagger canteen use and extend serving times to align with class groupings (where possible)
  • Implement a queue management system

If your child becomes unwell at school

If your child becomes unwell at school:

  • You will be contacted immediately
  • Your child will be accompanied by a staff member to an isolation area away from other staff and students while maintaining at least 2 metres distance
  • If the isolation area is not a separate room your child will be kept 2 metres away from others in the room
  • If it is not possible to maintain 2 metre distance, the staff member caring for your child will wear a face covering. Your child should avoid touching people or surfaces and use a tissue when they cough or sneeze
  • Your child will be given a face covering to wear if they are in a common area with other people or while exiting the building
  • Your child will be assessed to see whether they can immediately go home or be brought home by you. Public transport should not be used.
  • If your child is well enough to go home, the school will arrange for them to be taken home by a family member and you will be asked to call your doctor.
  • If your child is too unwell to go home, school staff will contact 999 or 112 and tell them that your child is suspected of having COVID-19

Further information

You can read about school transport for primary, post-primary and for children with special needs.

Read the Department’s frequently asked questions about returning to school.

You can find information in your language on returning to school.

You can find out more about the supports for children and teenagers during the COVID-19 public health emergency.

Page edited: 6 October 2021