The HSE has issued an Information note regarding Public Health Risk Assessments for Special Schools and
Classes

  •  In line with recommendations from the National Public Health Emergency Team, it has
    been agreed that from September 27th 2021, automatic contact tracing of asymptomatic
    close contacts in children aged over 3 months and less than 13 years, in Early Learning
    and Care (ELC) and School Age Childcare (SAC) facilities, primary education and social
    and sporting groups is no longer recommended.
  • Cases and outbreaks in special educational needs settings (special schools and special
    classes), and respite care will still come through to public health for advice for a public
    health risk assessment.
  • The purpose of this public risk assessment is to identify the appropriate next
    steps in the best interests of all of the children in these settings. This is in
    recognition that within these settings there is a higher probability that there are
    children with medical vulnerabilities and children who may have greater
    difficulties with infection prevention and control measures. However, the clear
    principle from a public health perspective is that well children should continue to
    attend school or childcare wherever possible.
  •  Public health specialists will undertake a public health risk assessment of the specific
    setting and the variety of factors which impact on the risk of infection and it is public
    health doctors who will make the decision on next steps – such steps will be
    communicated to school and parents concerned. This may likely be limited to advice as
    to how to best protect others within that unique setting, and will not necessarily lead to
    exclusions.
  •  It is accepted and understood that not all children in special schools and special classes
    have medical vulnerabilities and, subject to any other factors in the risk assessment
    which may show a heightened risk of Covid-19 infections, it is intended that the
    processes which are being followed in non-special education settings regarding the
    management of close contacts will apply.
  • Where the public health risk assessment identifies risk, it may be the case that some
    children will be identified as close contacts and will be required to restrict their
    movements.
  • In these circumstances children will only be required to restrict their movements for five
    days and will be offered one COVID 19 test. This is to balance the observation period
    required for children for signs of infection, with testing at the most relevant time, whilst
    not prolonging restricted movements and the harms to children from these restrictions.
  •  In line with this, any child who is currently restricting their movements, can return to their
    school or other settings from Monday 27th, once they have completed 5 days of
    restricted movements since their last exposure to the case, as long as they have no new
    symptoms of concern.
  • There is an understanding that for some children attending these settings, requiring such
    tests is very challenging and distressing for children and their families and testing will not
    be able to take place. This will not affect or extend the period of time for their
    restrictions. As long as no new acute symptoms of concern have developed, they can
    return after their 5 days observation.
  • Schools and parents will also be reminded that many children with SEN have chronic
    underlying conditions which mirror some of the symptoms of Covid-19. In these
    circumstances, where those symptoms are known and an ongoing health feature for a
    child, this should not preclude the attendance of the child at school. Parents and schools
    should focus on new and acute symptoms of Covid-19 in such children and in the
    circumstances where this arises should keep the child at home from school.
  • The clear and express purpose of the continuation of the public health risk assessment
    in the cases of special schools and classes or respite care etc is to support these
    settings when there is a positive Covid-19 case and where there is a greater likelihood
    that children may have underlying health conditions and where there is usually closer
    engagement with the children. Any decision to require children in these settings to
    restrict their movements will be undertaken by public health specialists and will not be a
    matter for decision by a school.
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