Angry teachers’ shock treatment in school virus fight



Workers at schools, preschools and TAFE colleges have been thrust into the frontline of the coronavirus crisis with not enough regard for their health and safety, teachers groups say.

Ahead of a meeting with Education Minister Dan Tehan and Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy tomorrow, Australian Education Union Federal President Correna Haythorpe called for all Australian governments to have consistency in decisions being made for the education sector.

"Our members are entitled to a safe workplace," she said.

"In particular, employees who are more vulnerable because of their own health or their family circumstances should be working from home now. This must urgently be facilitated by all governments."


Correna Haythorpe, Australian Education Union President.
Correna Haythorpe, Australian Education Union President.


Her statement comes as teachers warn of deteriorating conditions in schools across the county, with reports that some have run out of soap, hand sanitiser and paper towels, and widespread confusion over how they are meant to enforce social distancing rules among rambunctious youngsters.

One Gold Coast teacher who spoke to AAP said governments were treating teachers as "sacrificial lambs".

Similar comments came from the NSW Teachers Federation.

"Teachers and principals are not disposable," the organisation said in an online blog post.

"We are told that social distancing protocols should be observed in all other places not affected by the shutdown. The social distancing protocol of 4m2 per person is impossible to implement in classrooms, corridors and most school playgrounds."

A statement from the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee today said there were "significant opportunities to improve social distancing within schools, and we will continue to work to provide advice to the sector". No details were provided.

Advice to teachers from the Victorian government before that state decided to close schools included suggestions for staggered times for the start and end of the school day, as well as different times for recess and lunch breaks.

One NSW high school teacher who spoke to News Corp said teachers were "basically being used as babysitters so that people can keep working".

"We are not being heard at all," she said.



Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan. Picture: AAP/Troy Snook
Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan. Picture: AAP/Troy Snook


She said teachers were told they were not allowed to wear masks to school and some schools were struggling adhering to hand washing protocols as they were running out of cleaning products. At her own school one toilet block had been closed down to preserve soap and toilet paper.

"I don't know why the government hasn't shut us down - you can't keep nits out of a classroom, how can you keep a virus out?" she said.

Ms Haythorpe said the union was very concerned for members' health and safety.

"The issues for COVID-19 are real and are urgent," she said. "It's time for the Commonwealth and state and territory governments to enable schools to prepare for next term and the challenges ahead. We need a smooth transition process clearly outlined which protects staff and students."

"State and territory governments must step up and show leadership on this issue. They must end the uncertainty for our members, parents and the community."

A spokesman for Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan said he would be meeting with teachers groups to discuss their concerns this week. The Minister thanked teachers "for their support in keeping our schools open," the spokesman said.






Originally published as Angry teachers' shock treatment in school virus fight