Crackdown on student sick days could have unintended consequences

[Central Coast] A sick child can make life difficult even for the most organised families.

Now, thanks to COVID-19, the ordeal could be even more stressful with schools now requiring more detailed information about illnesses before they’ll allow students back to the classroom.

Getting away with a simple note or SMS message to say your child is sick will no longer cut it, as schools around the Coast tighten protocols for dealing with absenteeism in a bid to ensure they remain coronavirus free.

While these new protocols vary from school to school, many are now requesting more comprehensive information about a student’s illness and in some cases, even a doctor’s certificate or copy of a negative COVID-19 test result be supplied before the child in question will be allowed back into the classroom.

Narara Public School is one such school that’s taken a more hard-line approach with the following memo delivered by Principal, Grant McFarland, in the school’s latest newsletter.

“Due to the COVID-19 virus we require everyone to give a specific explanation for their child’s absence other than just being sick.

“We will now require more explanations via email, flexibuzz notification or in response to SMS for absences such as vomiting, gastro, cough, cold symptoms, runny nose, headache, sore throat, tooth ache etc.

“If your child has any cold and flu type symptoms – sore throat, runny nose, temperature, cough that are also quite often symptoms of COVID-19 – they must not attend school and we would appreciate and strongly encourage a clearance certificate from your doctor, or a copy of a negative COVID-19 result, before they return.

“We apologise for any inconvenience this may cause but the safety of our community is paramount.”

The move to more stringent illness screening is in line with the NSW Department of Education’s current guidelines which are informed by expert advice from NSW Health, but with the winter flu season now well and truly upon us concerns are emerging that these well intentioned protocols could further disrupt children’s education and alienate families.

Sharryn Brownlee is the President of the Central Coast Council of Parents and Citizens Association (CCC P&C) and believes schools should be taking a more personalised approach to absentee monitoring to ensure children aren’t being forced to stay home after having only just returned to school.

“Parents understand why these new protocols have been rolled out, but a lot of learning has already been missed by students that did not engage with learning from home so it’s critical that schools don’t start inadvertently disrupting a child’s education over this.

“We don’t want to see children and families punished for having the sniffles,” she said.

Brownlee is also concerned that the messaging some schools are utilising to express these changes could also be causing fear and confusion.

“As the President of the CCC P&C I’m surprised and disappointed to hear that some schools are making broad, sweeping statements about this issue.

“There is currently no community transmission in NSW, let alone on the Central Coast, but insensitive messaging can frighten people into thinking there’s an issue.

“Direct contact with families when there is concern, an open dialogue with the community and targeted and sensitive announcements are what all schools should be aspiring to deliver, not just during the pandemic but at all times,” Brownlee added.

Newsletter, Jun 3
Grant McFarland, Narara
Public School
Interview, Jun 10
Sharryn Brownlee, Central Coast Council of Parents and Citizens Association
Reporter: Dilon Luke