List reveals risk of reopening schools
Hundreds of students and staff have been forced into self-quarantine as a result of confirmed COVID-19 cases at school underlining the risks of returning to normal school operations.
As the Prime Minister urges schools to remain open for essential workers, a confidential list of NSW schools where outbreaks have occurred obtained by news.com.au reveals the 'close contacts' of COVID-19 patients have in some cases stretched to more than 100 students and staff at a school.
At most schools, all of these contacts were contacted and urged to self-quarantine at home, to ensure they were not displaying symptoms of the coronavirus.
There is no information provided in the tally of schools on whether further cases were recorded suggesting transmission at the school.
However, the students and staff deemed close contacts were not tested for COVID-19 unless they displayed symptoms including a dry cough and a fever.
Scott Morrison will urge state premiers to consider new COVID-19 measures at a meeting of national cabinet today to re-open more schools including allowing older teachers to work from home and staggering classes to reduce mass gatherings.
State premiers and the PM will discuss online learning options for children amid fears kids are being set as little as one or two hours of schoolwork a day as stressed parents juggle working from home with distance learning.
Teachers are calling for a staggered approach that might see face-to-face teaching return only for Year 12s and Kindergarten students in Term 2 or 3 before other years were phased in over subsequent weeks.
"Clearly some of the attention now has turned to at what point are the restrictions lifted,'' NSW Teachers' Federation president Angelo Gavrielatos said.
"At that point, we would need to look at some orderly resumption of school operations. Staggering that return would be an obvious option.
"There are concerns in schools about infection rates. The health advice is very clear: there are at-risk groups including those who have chronic illnesses, pregnant teachers."
The Prime Minister has consistently maintained there's no medical advice calling for schools to close and called for them to remain open for workers who cannot care for children at home.
But Victoria and the ACT are defying that order and urging parents not to send their children to school in Term 2.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has announced that Term 2 will be largely conducted remotely online, claiming that sending one million kids back to school would "spread the virus" and warned if students can stay at home they must stay at home.
In Canberra, the ACT Government has gone further, announcing it will no longer open all schools even to emergency service workers in Term 2. That's despite low levels of infection in the nation's capital where only 99 cases have been confirmed.
For children who cannot stay home, supervision will be provided at a small number of school sites that are yet to be announced.
Privately, federal officials believe the states moved to suspend face-to-face classes prematurely, under pressure from teachers' unions and against the advice of the chief medical officers.
Health Minister Greg Hunt insisted this week there was no change to the official advice that schools were safe to attend during the coronavirus pandemic.
"There's been no change in the advice, but I know that schools are a matter being considered by the National Cabinet over the coming days,'' he said.
Education Minister Dan Tehan said some states were moving towards to reopening more quickly than others. In the Northern Territory the expectation is schools will remain open for all children and the borders will remain closed.
"It'll differ for primary school to secondary school, and each jurisdiction is looking at their arrangements. And, a lot of it is being determined by the spread of the pandemic - where that's at with each state and territory,'' he said.
"Western Australia, South Australia, the Northern Territory, are looking at different arrangements, as well. So, what we're going to have is a nationally consistent approach, whereby there's a clear commitment from all states and territories: If your parents are working and your children can't be supervised at home, then the school will be open for you. That's a nationally consistent message."
NSW Premer Gladys Berejiklian has announced the NSW government will be providing free pre-school for the next six months and was considering what Term 2 will look like.
"There are some options we're considering," she said. "But again it will be based on health advice and in consultation with all of our stakeholders, including principals and teachers and parent groups as well."
Originally published as List reveals risk of reopening schools