As term one came to an end in South Australian schools last month, the message was clear: learning would move online for term two as the war against COVID-19 raged.
- The Australian Education Union says the government’s messages are confusing
- Premier Steven Marshall now wants students to attend school
- Some teachers have been stood down in Catholic schools across the state
But during the stay-at-home holidays, South Australia and the rest of the country made significant progress in minimising the number of new infections.
Now, the State Government’s planning has changed and teachers have been told to return to the classroom, creating confusion for staff, students and parents.
Premier Steven Marshall today said there was “much further clarity” around schooling for term two.
“We would like to see your attendance in term two and beyond,” he said.
He said schools were safe and students were encouraged to attend on campus for on-site learning.
But Australian Education Union SA president Lara Golding today told Parliament that teachers felt as though their safety was “not considered as important”.
“They are told that they are essential workers but don’t have the equipment, training or support to manage a health crisis,” she said.
“The contradictions and confusing messages have continued this week with the announcement that the one person per four-square-metre social distancing [rule] does not apply to schools.
“But social distancing of 1.5 metres away from each other still applies to schools.
“We’ve been told schools are safe, but they need to take extra precautions because they’re not quite safe, like cleaning and social distancing and they can’t hold assemblies.”
She criticised the lack of leadership from government, which has left teachers, managers and support staff without detailed advice about how to manage the crisis.
“As a teacher myself, I cannot understand or see how I might be able to manage a class full of 30 students and keep them 1.5 metres away from each other in a small classroom,” she said.
“I haven’t heard anything today that might reassure me that this is not going to be the case for Monday.”
She said teachers were feeling “highly anxious, frustrated, undervalued and ignored”.
Adelaide mother Katey Djorem said she would send her four-year old back to Montessori, but was still feeling confused about whether to send her nine and 11-year-old sons back to school.
She said if the health crisis now allowed for students and teachers to return to the classroom, why were playgrounds, sport and birthday parties still against the rules?
No new cases recorded in SA for the past 24 hours
It comes as South Australia recorded no new COVID-19 cases in the past 24 hours and 90 per cent of the 438 cases across the state had now recovered from the virus.
SA Health chief medical officer Dr Nicola Spurrier echoed the message that schools were now safe.
“Certainly in South Australia, we’ve always stayed along the line that the best place for children to learn is in a face-to-face school setting — so we definitely have not changed things in South Australia,” she said.
“I think it’s good that parents do have a choice because I do appreciate that some people may still be concerned.
“But I want to make it clear that the situation in South Australia is such that it is safe to send your children to school.”
She acknowledged that teachers may have spent their holidays becoming familiar with the technology needed for online learning, but said they were “very flexible”.
“Part of my letter acknowledged the fact that they showed real leadership in being able to teach both online and in a classroom setting,” she said.
Education Minister John Gardner said the Government had “tried to be very consistent”.
“We’ve said all throughout that schools remain open, unless of course, there’s a positive identification [of COVID-19] on a school site, and we’ve said all throughout that no child would be turned away,” he said.
The advice from South Australian Catholic schools was “essentially the same as the department”.
“Our schools are open and safe, parents are encouraged to return their children to school, but we respect their right to choose to keep them home, particularly where there may be other underlying health issues,” a SA Catholic Education spokeswoman said.
“At the start of term two we will be offering online learning as planned, but this will be regularly reviewed as we look at the numbers of students returning to the classroom.”
She said a small number of teachers had been stood down because there would be fewer students attending school but “as the number of students attending on-site increases many of these roles will be required and staff will be reinstated”.
The message on March 26 was for students to stay home
On March 26, Mr Gardner announced the remaining week of term one would become pupil-free days and education would move to a “modified environment” for term two.
The measures were expected to apply across the Catholic and independent school sectors.
But he said schools would remain open in term two for parents who needed to send their children to school.
“It’s very, very challenging to deliver an effective model of education when you’re dealing with two cohorts in an in-classroom environment and a learning-from-home environment,” Mr Gardner said last month.
“The message for parents is this: if you are capable of supervising your child at home so they can learn from home, we are now supporting you to do so.
“Some of those students are going to be learning from home, some of them are going to be learning at school, supervised, but some of the teachers will be doing the instruction working from home. Some of them will be in the school site.
“The model of learning must be consistent across those cohorts.”
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