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