Teachers want a plan for safe return to school

Masked St Brigid’s Catholic College student receiving an award in 2021.

EDUCATION –

The Central Coast sub-branch of the Independent Education Union is calling for consultation and clarity from the NSW Government as teachers, support staff and students prepare for the return to school.

Given the current high COVID infection rates, the union expects the government and employers to work together on Work Health and Safety (WHS) provisions such as: ventilation in classrooms; student vaccination; access to COVID testing; booster shots for school staff; and the impact of potential staff shortages.

Central Coast IEU organiser Charles Wheeler said, “Central Coast schools due are to reopen in two weeks’ time but there has been almost no communication from the NSW Government yet about how it is going to happen and how it is going to happen safely.

“Teachers and support staff have to expertise to advise about best ways to proceed,” Wheeler said.

He said “shortage” was the key word when discussing how schools on the Coast would need to prepare for the new school year.

“There are currently 500,000 active cases [of COVID-19] in NSW and on the Central Coast there’s 10,000 give or take a few but there were only 200 active cases on the Central Coast when school finished last year so a lot has changed in a very short period of time and teachers need certainty.

“I think the biggest issue for teachers at the moment is the fact there is a dire teacher shortage on the Central Coast.

Charles Wheeler

“It is never easy for schools to find casual teachers as it is and this existing problem is going to be exacerbated.

“Who will teach students when schools are under staffed and who will even supervise them or will schools be forced to close?

“Would we be teaching face to face or remotely?

“Teachers don’t know this and they need to prepare to kick off 2022 – it is very difficult for teachers to completely change their lesson delivery at the drop of a hat.

“We need certainty about the mandatory status of the booster shots.

“Central Coast school workers know that there is talk that a booster shot will become mandatory and as we know on the Coast it is not always easy to book in for a booster shot at the drop of a hat particularly when you are back working full time.”

“If teachers and support staff require a booster to be fully vaccinated, what is the proposed timeline and what support will be in place to ensure they can access this vaccination?” said Acting Secretary of the NSW IEUA Branch, Pam Smith said.

“The IEU is ready to work together with employers and the State Government to make the return to school as streamlined as possible, but there must be consultation every step of the way, and the resources and support to help teachers and other educational staff get back to work safely needs to be in place,” she said.

“At the moment, the situation is confusing for teachers, employers, parents and the union.

“It is critical that everyone’s health and safety is protected, otherwise the return to school could turn into a super spreader event.”

Smith told CCC that the current levels of infection in the community could exacerbate an existing shortage of casual teachers.

“We are short of casual teachers – it is an issue generally in the government, Catholic and independent sectors. 

“Last year our members were saying it was increasingly difficult to find casuals and if there are staff that can’t return at the beginning of the school year that will certainly put pressure on the supply of casuals.”

When asked whether the NSW Government was engaging with the IEU, Smith said: “The answer is no and I am not sure they are communicating with the Teachers’ Federation in the government school sector either.

“This government has a tendency for government by media release.

“For example the Premier said today (Monday, January 10) there would be a focus on rapid antigen testing to schools.

“He said if a child in a cohort tested positive there would be rapid antigen testing for all students in that cohort and that parents can do the testing at home and upload the results.

“That sounds fine but where are they getting the supply, will the parents be able to do that and will they be able to upload or will they depend on the school?

“Does that mean the child will come late to school that day, what does it actually mean?”

Smith said she was aware of some schools who had purchased a supply of rapid antigen test kits last year but not all schools could afford to do so.

“Supply would need to be a whole lot better than it is now,” she said.

“It is not clear where the supplies are coming from.

“It is likely that supplies will be made available by the school to the parents but I didn’t read that clearly in the media release.

“They are exactly the questions our members will be asking.”

Smith said the IEU considered ventilation and air quality in classrooms to be a work in progress.

Although vaccination eligibility for five to 11 year old children started from Monday, January 10 she said supply was an issue.

“The Federal Government is certainly encouraging parents to take their children along but we are hearing that there are issues with getting a booking in the first place and if they have a booking, they are being informed supply is an issue and they will have to wait.”

Access to booster shots for teachers is another issue that the IEU wants to see resolved before the start of the school year.

There are two aspects of the issue – one is the availability issue of boosters.

“You would think that when you are eligible you can just go and get a booster and again we are hearing that is very problematic. 

“I have heard from members they try to get a booster and wait two weeks or four weeks and the government’s message is to shop around but it shouldn’t be that hard.

“The current impact of COVID on the supply chain means it is not as easy to get a booster as it should be.

“Then there’s the likelihood that State Governments will mandate that a booster is required to be fully vaccinated.

“What is the timeline for that because if they are going to mandate it – and I believe Victoria already has for health, education and disability services – people do become eligible at different times,” she said.

While there is not yet a Public Health Order in place in NSW to mandate the definition of fully vaccinated to include a third or booster shot, Smith said NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet “has referred to it”.

Will schools be COVID-ready by the start of the school term?

“That’s the big question and that is why the IEU is making these comments.

“The Premier and Prime Minister have said they want schools to open after Australia day, with everything in place around testing, vaccination and the issue of what staff will be available.

“There is a government determination for schools to open but what does it look like in practice?

“Schools are at the heart of our communities.

“We want schools to reopen safely for families and students and school staff and that means there needs to be consultation with staff and their unions.”

Jackie Pearson

1 Comment on "Teachers want a plan for safe return to school"

  1. My heart goes out to all our wonderful teachers. How dare the Federal and State Liberal governments expect schools to resume when there has been no forward planning to keep teachers and students safe. I have two granddaughters, one fully vaccinated and the other partially, and the thought of sending them back to school in this environment horrifies me. Teachers are not babysitters, SCOMO!!! What is the harm in delaying the start of the school year for another couple of weeks, to allow more primary school students to be vaccinated, and to also prepare our schools better to deal with Covid – as in establishing adequate ventilation etc., in classrooms. The idiots who purport to govern us have “let it rip” with no forward planning. Bring on both the Federal and State elections, and let’s get someone in government who actually care about the people, and not just the economy – because anyone with half a brain realises you can’t have a strong economy without a healthy workforce!!!!

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