As Central Coast children prepare to return to school next week, Central Coast Council P&C (CCCP&C) says parents are concerned at how COVID-19 risks will be managed and a later return for primary schools would be wiser.
“CCCP&C recognises that the NSW Education Minister understands there will be a huge disruption to schools due to staff and student illness from catching COVID once schools open,” spokesperson, Sharryn Brownlee, said.
“It will be worse in primary schools, due to the poor management by the Federal Government of the five-11-year-olds’ vaccine roll out.
“The vaccine mismanagement has angered and frightened parents who have been unable to get their children vaccinated.
“Primary children, while wanting to meet their new teachers and classmates, are feeling fearful and worried because they are not protected like high school children are.
“It will be interesting to see just how many casuals and retiree teachers are currently accredited and able to fill in in either primary or secondary schools.
“Subject speciality is needed in high schools to ensure the curriculum is taught correctly so that students are able to pass exams.
“It is concerning for those students who will be away for a week or up to 10 days with COVID.”
Brownlee said there were similar concerns over teacher absences.
“It will be a very disruptive Term One with different students and teachers in class absent over multiple days,” she said.
“With online learning not linked to what their peers are doing in class the concern is that it will just be ‘busy work’ to fill in time until they can return to class and try to catch up with their classmates.”
Brownlee said the greatest concern was safety in primary schools.
“Parents are fearful that their child, and then the family and extended family, will be falling ill from the increased risk of catching COVID as it takes hold and spreads,” she said.
“Many parents do not want to take the risk and will be keeping their children home until they can be fully vaccinated to protect them.
“Education matters but health and safety matters more, they say.
“Some parents will be permanently home schooling, such is their fear for their children.”
Brownlee said a simple solution would be to have NSW primary students start back two weeks later so that children can have their vaccinations and be protected.
“Western NSW is already starting a week later,” she said.
“It is incredibly frustrating that once again the poor management of a vaccine rollout from the Federal Government is putting lives at risk.
“Children’s health and well-being should be at the front of mind when decisions are being made.”
Member for Gosford, Liesl Tesch, echoed Brownlee’s concerns.
“The plan to get students back into classrooms includes relying on staff and students taking Rapid Antigen Tests (RATs) twice a week for the first month,” Tesch said.
“The Perrottet Government’s plan is for individual schools to distribute the tests to the families of students before the start of the school year (in less than a week).
“A part of the plan is to maximise natural and mechanical ventilation, with air purifiers dispatched to where they are needed.
“I’m sure we can all agree they are needed in all of our classrooms.”
Tesch said the State Government’s “let it rip” attitude is not working.
President of Ettalong Woy Woy Teachers Association, Chris Wright, said the plan is worrisome for many teachers and families.
“RATs are meant to be such a crucial part of the Government’s scheme to keep schools open but the details of how that’s going to work is still vague,” he said.
“How are we going to get students and teachers to get tests on a consistent basis and do we even have enough?
“We also know you can be infectious with COVID for a number of days before you return a positive rapid test – so it is not a silver bullet.
“Adding to our concern is that COVID affects you worse the older you are.
“I’m in my 50s and I am concerned.”
Wright said a growing teacher shortage in public schools adds another complexity to the reopening of schools.
“Solutions for who’s going to cover the sick teachers is just not cutting it right now,” he said.
“The plan to get retired teachers back in the classroom to deal with the expected increased shortage is problematic to say the least.
“We know older people are some of the most vulnerable people to COVID.
“On top of this, fast-tracking student teachers is not the answer.
“We know we have a problem retaining new teachers so bringing them into a classroom in the worst possible environment.
“I doubt is going to improve those statistics.”