COVID-safe settings in place as school returns but teachers brace for disruptions

Students will return to school under COVID-smart settings that will minimise the risk of the virus and allow teachers and pupils to return safely to the classroom according to the NSW Government.

However, the NSW Teachers Federation has said teachers and principals will closely monitor the effectiveness of the government’s risk mitigation measures as thousands of teachers and students return to the classroom.

As part of the new measures, every student and teacher in NSW government and non-government schools will be able to receive rapid antigen test (RAT) kits before school returns on February 1.

The COVID-Smart Plan to keep schools open includes twice a week surveillance testing for primary and high school students, school staff and early childhood staff.

Surveillance testing will be undertaken for the first four weeks of term, with two weeks of supply distributed before term starts.

Mask wearing ill be mandatory for all staff and high school students, with masks encouraged for children in primary schools.

Interaction between year groups will be limited and visitors will be limited to those providing essential curriculum and wellbeing support.

COVID-safe settings will be put in place for music, sport and excursions.

Schools will be required to maximise natural and mechanical ventilation, with air purifiers dispatched to where they are needed.

Contingency plans will be in place to manage any disruptions to the workforce.

Premier Dominic Perrottet said supporting students to return safely to the classroom is vital after two years of disruption to their education.

“Students learn best at school, some students have spent a quarter of their schooling at home. We’re committed to bringing students back safely,” Perrottet said.

“What is most important about this approach is that it allows students to enjoy all aspects of their schooling in a safe and sensible way.

“The government is distributing more than 12 million RATs to over 3,150 government, non-government schools and early childhood centres to assist with surveillance testing of staff and students.”

Staffing contingencies include utilising retired and studying teachers.

The Association of Independent Schools of NSW Dr Geoff Newcombe said all three school sectors worked closely together to develop the back to school arrangements.

“School communities should feel confident about returning for Term 1 under these arrangements, which allow a wide range of activities to proceed with appropriate risk-assessment and planning,” Newcombe said.

Families will be notified by their schools on how and when to collect the RAT kits for their children.

In the 12 to 15-year-old age group, more than 80 per cent of children have had their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and 78 per cent are double-dosed.

In the 5 to 11-year-old age group, more than 24 per cent of children have had their first dose.

More information on the return to school settings for NSW public schools is available at

NSW Teachers Federation president Angelo Gavrielatos said teachers and principals were bracing themselves for what would inevitably be a disruptive start to the school year.

“Omicron has taught us that nowhere is safe,” Gavrielatos said.

“That is why we have, and will continue to insist, that the implementation of risk mitigation strategies, such as rapid antigen tests, masks, improved ventilation and cohorting, is as robust as it can be,” he said.

“We clearly remain concerned for the health and safety of our students, staff and their families.

“How many other jobs require you to be on a worksite with literally hundreds of people, in some instances up to 2,000, stuck in restricted, often poorly ventilated spaces (classrooms) with up to 30 people?

“We will be closely monitoring the effectiveness of the risk mitigation strategies with a view to seeking urgent adjustments, should they be necessary, to ensure the greatest amount of protection can be offered to our students and staff.

“Robust risk mitigation strategies are essential if we are going to make our schools as safe as they possibly can be.”

Jackie Pearson