Last-minute COVID-19 guidelines leave schools none wiser

The updated COVID-19 social distancing guidelines for schools announced today by Prime Minister Scott Morrison provide little clarity about how governments are going to ensure a safe working environment for teachers, principals and support staff.

While Mr Morrison’s statement said that children have a low risk of infection or transmission of the COVID-19 virus, the National Cabinet has failed to provide advice as to how adult school employees can minimise the risk that the coronavirus poses to their health.

Australian Education Union Federal President Correna Haythorpe said that all governments must prioritise the needs of teachers, principals and support staff in any decisions about changing COVID-19 teaching arrangements.

“Today’s updated guidelines do not provide a solution in terms of creating a safe environment for teachers, principals and support staff in schools,” Ms Haythorpe said.

“Schools are also workplaces that are full of adults. It is still not clear how governments expect schools to manage social distancing for adults. It is contradictory to have one set of rules for adults outside of the school gate and another inside.”

“All teachers, principals and support staff in schools across Australia are entitled to work in a safe environment, and it is the government’s fundamental responsibility to provide this,” Ms Haythorpe said.

Ms Haythorpe criticised the last-minute nature of Mr Morrison’s announcement, which threatens to throw Monday’s return to school for millions of school students into chaos.

“To announce the scrapping of school social distance guidelines on the Friday before students return to school in all states and territories is beyond comprehension,” Ms Haythorpe said.

“Several states have already implemented arrangements for remote learning and for the children of essential workers and those children who are more vulnerable. Mr Morrison’s comments will only add to the general confusion being felt by our members and by parents.”

“The Prime Minister’s statement said today that the COVID-19 social distancing recommendations are not ‘appropriate or practical in classrooms or corridors’, and yet children and their families in the community are still required to meet social distancing,” Ms Haythorpe said.

“We have sought, on behalf of our members, clear guidelines and resources for schools, TAFEs and preschools. Unfortunately, today’s statement does not provide clarity and is contradictory to the advice that has been given to the general community by the National Cabinet.”

“There is an important question to be asked of the National Cabinet. That is, has today’s backflip on school-based social distancing occurred because governments have failed to find a way to implement proper social distancing in schools and have instead put it in the too-hard basket?” Ms Haythorpe said.

Ms Haythorpe said that the Prime Minister and the National Cabinet needed to prioritise the phased implementation of a return to normal business for schools.

“Countries such as Norway are showing how an organised, phased implementation process for returning to school can work,” Ms Haythorpe said.

“Teachers are working incredibly hard to ensure a high quality education is provided to all students and they need governments at all levels to respect and support them, and to provide resources including appropriate sanitation and cleaning requirements.”

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