It’s not just parents who are worried about Australian schools remaining open during the coronavirus crisis. Many teachers are “concerned and anxious” as well.
On Sunday night Australia’s Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy said schools will remain open as the “risk to children of coronavirus is extremely low”.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said parents are welcome to keep their kids home till the end of term if they wish.
One Sydney primary school teacher, who wished to remain anonymous, said it was “pretty ridiculous” to keep schools open as social distancing measures of maintaining four square metres per person are impossible to implement in the classroom, plus kids’ hygiene is also difficult to manage.
They Are Classrooms Sanitised?
“I had no soap in my classroom on Monday,” the grade one teacher told HuffPost Australia.
“I have kids picking their noses and then holding my hands when they’ve fallen over and are crying. Try to tell a crying kid that you can’t comfort them because of a deadly virus.”
Disappointed that teachers don’t have appropriate PPE (personal protective equipment) like doctors and nurses, she said getting students to wash hands at least 10 times a day is all she can do, “along with everything else I have to do day-to-day”.
Another teacher, working at a public high school in Sydney, claimed teachers were personally responsible for buying their own hand sanitisers, tissue boxes and wipes for students to use in the classroom.
“Teachers are burdened. We feel like the onus is on us,” she said. “Many of us go to the shops after school to find our own supplies for our classroom, forget about our homes.
“We are not getting hygiene on top of what we already have (soap in bathrooms). There are no hand sanitisers given, no tissues, no wipes and no air sprays. Our classrooms are vacuumed only once a week, not even wiped down.”
HuffPost Australia has contacted the Department of Education for clarification on which hygiene products have been supplied to schools.
Kids Coming To School Sick
This teacher said implementing social distancing measures in a classroom was next to impossible, and that she had already sent several children to the school’s sick bay in the past few days.
“I have seen at least two students sick in every class and a total of at least 12 students a day who are unwell,” she said.
When the office staff have called parents asking them to pick up their unwell children, “parents call back in anger and are abusive towards staff for our actions to send their sick child home”.
“It’s ridiculous. We had to send out a memo to all parents pleading for the abusive phone calls, emails etc to stop.”
Teachers Concerned About Their Own Health
Many teachers support schools shutting as they are concerned about contracting coronavirus themselves.
“While I understand healthcare and other essential workers may need to send children to school, teachers and students are all at risk of becoming infected with coronavirus,” said our high school teacher.
“The government has urged parents to keep students home, and we have not been given a choice to stay home or come to school. Everything is coming out of goodwill and expectations. The coronavirus does not choose who to infect.”
Highlighting that not only do many teachers “have children of their own or care for vulnerable people”, she said several teaching staff at her school are at higher risk of getting sick themselves.
“We have countless older teachers and office staff, as well as five pregnant women and a few staff members with severe illnesses and are extremely at risk,” she explained. “The government decisions are mixed signals and compromise the safety of these teachers and staff.”
The NSW Teachers Federation Executive will meet on Tuesday March 24 to consider the outcomes of discussions with the government and education department in relation to health protection for all teachers.
“Schools stay open. If you need to send your child to school, schools stay open,” said NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian on Tuesday morning. “ However, we are recommending at this time that parents keep their children at home. And I said that yesterday, and I say that again today.”
NSW’s term ends on April 9, and Berejiklian said the planning process for future alternative learning methods has commenced, as “we don’t know what the next five or six weeks will look like”.
“This has been a good chance for us, an opportunity for us, to make sure that whether it’s through web-based tools or whether it’s through home learning, that we have the systems in place to support our children, to support our students, given what we might face into the future.”
Victoria has decided to not follow the direction to keep its schools open and will bring the term-end forward from Friday March 27 to Tuesday March 24.
Premier Daniel Andrews said the state’s Chief Health Officer supported this decision “to spend these precious days without kids at schools to plan for remote, flexible distancing learning in the event that we need to move to that way of teaching and learning”.
On Thursday March 26, Premier Palaszczuk announced Queensland schools will be student-free from Monday March 30. However, schools will still remain open for the children of essential services workers who are required to go to work.
A message she shared to parents of kids not going to school next week was, “They should be learning from home next week, not out and about at shopping centres”.
“Tasmanian schools will remain open for the time being,” said Premier Peter Gutwein. “We recognise the incredibly important role that our schools play in supporting the education and wellbeing of Tasmania’s children and young people.”
The state’s term ends on April 8.
“I’ve always said closing schools is a last resort,” said WA Premier Mark McGowan.
However given many parents’ concerns, he said the state will “relax the law” around students having to attend class till term ends April 9.
SA Premier Steven Marshall said schools remain open, while work is being done in the meantime to “towards more flexible working environments here in South Australian schools”.
If parents choose not to send their kid to school, he said they “still have an obligation to make sure that the child gets that education at home, they’re supervised at home, and they also need to recognise that the student is not home for an extra week or two, but potentially for six months”.
Premiere Michael Gunner said NT is following chief health officers’ advice that “it’s safe for schools to stay open”. However, parents are welcome to keep their kids at home.
Urban and remote schools’ last official day for the term is April 8.
Australian Capital Territory
ACT Education Minister Yvette Berry assured parents that schools are open, though parents have a choice whether their children attend till term end April 9.
“No child will be turned away from our schools if parents decide that they need to send them to school,” she said, acknowledging working parents and single parents may have no choice but to send kids to school.
At least 1882 cases of Covid-19 have been confirmed in Australia and eight people have died.
New South Wales has the most cases at 818.
The virus has killed more than 16,000 people worldwide and continues to spread at a rapid pace.