School and COVID-19

Introduction

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

It also provides advice and resources for parents and students to support them during COVID-19.

If your child is a close contact of a confirmed case of COVID-19 in a primary school pod, they will be offered free antigen tests.

If your child has any symptoms of COVID-19 they should stay home and self-isolate. You should book a PCR test for your child.

Read more about when to keep your child home from school.

Primary school children in third class and above should wear face coverings. The measure is temporary and will be reviewed in mid-February 2022.

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.

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.

When to keep your child home from school

If your child is a close contact of a confirmed case of COVID-19, what they must do depends on whether they are vaccinated or not.

If your child has symptoms of COVID-19, you should book a PCR test and keep them at home even if they are fully vaccinated. The HSE has information about what to do if your child has symptoms of COVID-19.

Aged 13 or over and fully vaccinated

If your child is a household close contact, they must stay home from school even if they do not have symptoms of COVID-19. They must restrict their movements for 5 days and do antigen tests.

If your child is a close contact outside a household setting (for example, school or sports activities) they do not need to stay home from school but they need to do antigen tests.

They will be sent free antigen tests from the HSE.

Aged 13 or over and not fully vaccinated

If your child is a close contact, they must stay home from school even if they have no symptoms of COVID-19. They must restrict their movements for 14 days and get a PCR test. They can stop restricting their movements if they get a negative PCR test 10 days after they were last in contact with the person who tested positive.

Children aged 12 or under

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
  • Live 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 PCR 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 a close contact in primary school or outside a household setting, and does not have symptoms, they do not have to restrict their movements and can go to school.

If your child is a close contact of someone with COVID-19 in a household setting, and does not have symptoms, they need to:

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

Antigen tests for primary school children

If your child is a close contact of a confirmed case of COVID-19 in a primary school pod, they will be offered free antigen tests. Antigen testing is offered to the full class if there are 2 or more confirmed cases of COVID-19 outside a single pod in a 7 day period.

Read about antigen testing for close contacts in primary school.

Getting a PCR test

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

  • If they get a negative (not detected) test result your child can return to school when they have no symptoms
  • 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:

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

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

Face coverings and masks

In primary schools, children in third class and above should wear face coverings. The Department of Education has published guidance on the use of face coverings in primary schools. It also has information on how to use face coverings (pdf). The measure is temporary and will be reviewed in mid-February 2022.

Teachers in primary school must wear face coverings 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 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.

Post-primary

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 during 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 as much as possible.

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

Post primary schools

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 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 the same 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: 2 December 2021