An agreement has still not been reached to enable schools for special needs children to reopen next Thursday.
The Department of Education wrote to principals last night to outline its plans for over 20,000 children to return to class that day.
It applies to special schools and children with special needs who attend mainstream primary school.
Minister for Education Norma Foley and Minister of State for Special Education and Inclusion Josepha Madigan said they had "positive engagement" with primary level and key education stakeholders yesterday.
Minister Foley said: “We are working together towards a phased return for children in special schools and a return to school for those in special classes in primary schools and children with significant additional needs in mainstream classes beginning on 21 January."
She added she is hopeful a pathway can be established for the return of all children to school at the start of February, "subject of course to Government and public health consideration".
However, the trade union Fórsa, which represents 12,000 special needs assistants (SNAs), said that efforts to reopen special schools and classes "were still underway".
In a statement, the union said an "agreement had yet to be reached on enhanced safety measures that would facilitate the safe resumption of services".
Fórsa said talks with the Department "had not concluded and that a number of issues remained to be resolved".
These include "the safety of SNAs at high risk of COVID infection" and the absence of childcare arrangements for workers.
It will not be confirmed until Tuesday whether special needs children can return to school next week.
Main image: File photo. Credit: PA