How will schools ‘live with COVID’ when classes go back?
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The return to school will be challenging and messy but better than the alternative, Premier Dan Andrews says.
“Nothing about that’s going to be easy,” Mr Andrews said during the week. “But it’s infinitely better than having all of our kids at home and therefore so many of their parents at home. Think about the impact on the economy, think about the impact on our kids.”
After a long summer like no other, there are both sighs of relief and a sense of trepidation as more than 1 million primary and secondary students return to the classroom.
COVID-19 cases are falling but remain way higher than schools have ever dealt with. Schools will be “living with COVID”. But how?
How can parents help keep schools safe?
Get the booster, get your children jabbed, follow the COVID school rules and do not send children to school with symptoms, however mild.
What’s the latest on vaccination?
All staff are required to have received three doses of a COVID-19 vaccine unless a medical exemption applies. Secondary students have good levels of vaccination and students aged 16 to 17 are now eligible for a booster. Primary school-aged students only qualified for the jab on January 10 and the government wants to get 90 per cent of that age group vaccinated by the end of February. As of Friday, 38 per cent of Victorians aged five to 11 – about 216,000 children – had received their first jab. State-run vaccination hubs are now offering paediatric jabs without a booking, and 15 primary schools are being used as vaccination hubs this weekend, plus another 15 next weekend.
More than 1 million students will be back at Victorian schools on Monday. Credit:AP
Will schools have the special air purifiers by Monday?
Yes, 51,000 HEPA air filtration machines will be in all government and low-fee non-government schools by the start of term 1. Some 1500 were scheduled to be delivered on Friday, and the final 600 this weekend. (High-fee schools are expected to make their own arrangements).
What’s the plan for rapid antigen tests?
The government has promised six million free rapid antigen tests will be distributed to schools by Monday. These will be used in the first four weeks of term, when cases are expected to rise. Primary and secondary students and staff will be asked to test twice during a school week, while those at specialist schools will be asked to test each weekday. Students and staff must report any positive test results to their school, as well as the coronavirus hotline at 1800 675 398.
What will the school do if there’s a positive case?
Schools will record that the student or staff member will be absent while in seven-day isolation. They will then notify affected groups or the whole school of a positive case onsite and urge the school community to monitor for symptoms. Students and staff without symptoms can continue to attend school. Symptomatic students and staff must not attend school and must get tested, only returning when they have a negative result and no symptoms.
Who will need to isolate now?
Staff members or students who are household contacts of a positive case – that is, they have spent more than four hours with someone who has COVID-19 inside a house, accommodation, or care facility – must inform the school and isolate for seven days. Learning material will be provided, but not remote learning. A negative test is not required to return to school following completion of seven days of isolation.
How will schools manage staffing shortages caused by COVID-19 or isolation?
That’s an interesting one. First, classes can be temporarily combined in a large space such as a hall. Casual relief teachers, retired and inactive teachers, principals and support staff will plug gaps. Camps and excursions might have to be postponed. If staffing shortages deepen, some staff who are household contacts will continue to work. Stage three is remote learning.
How will skipping isolation work?
School staff who are asymptomatic close contacts may return to work during the home isolation period if it is necessary for continuity of school operations and if other options have been exhausted. Both staff member and principal must agree on this. There are conditions attached to this: daily rapid antigen tests for five days, wearing a mask except when eating or drinking, not entering shared work areas including the staff room, not carpooling and avoiding public transport, working outside or in well-ventilated spaces, and quarantining outside of work.
Do students and staff have to attend school?
Yes, all students are expected to attend onsite unless they are formally registered as being home-schooled. Staff are required to provide a medical certificate with any request to work offsite or to take personal leave. This will be granted if the principal believes it is reasonable, practicable and appropriate for the employee to work remotely.
Will my school close?
School closures will only be considered as a “localised, short-term, last-resort option”. Principals will not decide – schools will close on the advice of the Health Department and with the approval of their regional director. Vulnerable children and the children of essential workers will still be able to attend while remote learning proceeds for specified classes or year levels.
How about face masks?
They are highly recommended for preps to grade 2s, and must be worn indoors by year 3s and up. Students and staff will be encouraged to bring their own, although schools will be given a stash. Principals have been told that outside of lawful exceptions, they should “treat any deliberate and persistent non-compliance with the face masks direction as a serious matter”.
Food cannot be shared. Teachers are asked to avoid handshakes and use “non-contact greetings” instead. There will be multiple exits and entry points and possibly staggered drop-off and pick-up times. Parents and guardians will only be able to come onsite if there are QR scanners.
- with Rachel Eddie, Marta Pascual Juanola
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