The SA teachers’ union says parents should not send their children to school if they have concerns about the spread of COVID-19, amid claims public schools are without hand sanitiser and classes are unable to practice social distancing.
The Australian Education Union state branch has called on parents to “listen to their own medical advice” when deciding whether to send their children to school in light of Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s announcement last night that parents would not be penalised if they chose to keep their children at home.
The South Australian Government has over the past two weeks remained firm on its stance that children should continue to go to school in accordance with advice from the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee.
Premier Steven Marshall reiterated that position on ABC Radio Adelaide this morning, but he said it would be “fine” if parents took their children out of school provided they were closely supervised and continued to receive an at-home education using “flexible” online and hard resources.
“If parents are going to take their children out of school they do have a massive responsibility to keep those children safe and supervised,” he said.
“They also need to recognise, if they’re going to do this, it’s not a two-week requirement – these restrictions are likely to be in place for six months.
“That will reduce the number of children at the school, so allowing even more social distancing that will improve or reduce the risk of children contracting the virus at school.”
Marshall said South Australia had “a lot of vulnerable children” that would be better off by remaining at school if they were unable to be properly supervised or educated at home.
He said parents who worked in essential services also relied on schools remaining open so that they could “continue to get to work and not be home supervising their children”, which would “seriously compromise our ability to fight this virus”.
“We don’t want to have a whole cohort of people lose a whole year of education in 2020,” he said.
“If all of a sudden we had hundreds of thousands of children not supervised out in the community we would spread this disease much faster (and) we would also compromise our ability to tackle this disease.”
AEU state branch president Lara Golding told InDaily this morning that if schools were to remain open it was “absolutely critical” that they be provided with essential supplies such as hand sanitiser and soap.
If parents have any concerns they should keep their children at home
She said teachers were also demanding “clear guidance” from the Premier on how they are expected to enact social distancing in a classroom in accordance with a Federal Government restriction of one person per four square-metres inside buildings.
“I’ve been hearing reports that there are a number of schools that don’t have sufficient hand sanitiser and concerns about soap and cleaning materials,” she said.
“Under the current arrangements, it’s mathematically impossible to have social distancing in a classroom.
“If parents have any concerns they should keep their children at home.
“I think that people should listen to their own medical advice and think about what is possible for their family.”
She said the union was also calling on Marshall to ensure teachers who are either medically vulnerable or who live with people who are at risk of contracting COVID-19 are able to work from home without having to use their existing leave entitlements.
The Premier told ABC Radio Adelaide teachers would “absolutely” be given the option to not go to work, but he did not provide detail on when or how those arrangements would be put in place.
He said the Department for Education would today receive mass quantities of hand sanitiser to distribute at schools.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison last night said the medical advice on school closures remains unchanged as evidence showed that children rarely suffer serious illness if they become infected.
But Victoria has brought school holidays forward to allow an early shutdown tomorrow, with the ACT to also go pupil-free and facilitate classes online.
We cannot have a situation where classrooms don’t have hand sanitiser because they’ve run out
Face-to-face learning will still be available in the capital for students who need it.
New South Wales schools remain open but the state’s premier is encouraging parents to keep their kids at home.
“However, no child will be turned away, schools remain open,” Gladys Berejiklian said this morning.
Queensland schools remain open amid condemnation from teachers, who say they are being forced to go to work without basic supplies such as soap and hand sanitiser.
The Queensland Teachers’ Union this morning wrote to its members saying it had “lost confidence” in the Government’s decision to keep schools open and would call a strike if its demands were not met.
National AEU president Correna Haythorpe this afternoon called on all state and territory governments to have consistency with the decisions that are being made for schools.
“In the United Kingdom, schools have remained open for children of essential workers and students who are in vulnerable circumstances. If this model is being considered for Australia we need urgent information about how this will roll out,” she said.
“It is of vital importance that school staff and parents maintain confidence about the procedure taken to manage the ramifications of COVID-19 at a national level.”
SA Opposition Leader Peter Malinauskas this morning called on the State Government to provide mandatory hand sanitiser in schools and daily temperature checks for all school students, and to stagger recess and lunch breaks.
He said the measures were inspired by Singapore’s approach to tackling the spread of COVID-19 in schools.
“The Government is holding up Singapore as a leading example and they have taken these proactive steps, such as daily temperature checks for all staff and students,” he said.
“We cannot have a situation where classrooms don’t have hand sanitiser because they’ve run out.”
Marshall told ABC Radio Adelaide that “most” schools had already staggered their recess and lunch breaks.
He said the Department for Education had not yet been advised by health authorities to provide daily temperature checks for students and teachers.
“We are trying to acquire some (temperature checking devices) if that becomes the advice… but that hasn’t been the advice today,” he said.
Some public schools are implementing their own measures to combat the spread of COVID-19, including Mark Oliphant College, which will shut down all drinking fountains at its northern Adelaide campus until further notice.
Meanwhile, the SACE Board is encouraging schools to adapt their assessments in light of the coronavirus pandemic.
“Right now, schools are working through the school-based assessments, which makes up 70 per cent of a student’s assessed work towards their results,” chief executive Martin Westwell said.
“In terms of the end of year exams that make up the other 30 per cent of a student’s grade, we are working with the assumption that the exams will go ahead as usual.
“We are working on scenario planning but right now our focus is supporting schools to use the flexibility of the SACE to help them deliver the SACE to South Australian students.”