Today is the official first day of term one in most NSW schools and as students and parents prepare to start the school year, there are new guidelines in place to manage COVID-19 infections.
A spokesperson for NSW Education told The Echo the Department is working closely with NSW Health ‘to finalise school settings for the start of the new school year, and detailed advice for term 1 will be made available to school communities shortly’.
According to NSW Education, the return of school for 2022 will be made COVID-safe through a combination of physical distancing, mask-wearing, strict hygiene practices, and the frequent cleaning of schools.
Rapid antigen test (RAT) kits will also form a significant part of the Department’s plan to ensure COVID-safe school settings.
According to Service NSW, ‘For the first four weeks, students and staff should take a rapid antigen test twice a week in the morning before attending school. Test kits will continue to be supplied by schools’.
‘Staff and students who get a positive rapid antigen test result must register it on www.service.nsw.gov.au or the Service NSW app as soon as possible’.
All school-based staff and teachers must be double vaccinated to remain employed with the department, a mandate that has resulted, in part, in staff shortages.
Service NSW information sheet
Service NSW has released an information sheet on watching for symptoms, vaccinations, and when to take a rapid antigen test.
According to www.nsw.gov.au/covid-19/stay-safe/advice-for-parents-students: ‘All staff and students are asked to take a RAT and get a negative result before attending school at the start of term one’.
‘Schools will inform parents on how these kits can be collected. Students who are household close contacts must isolate at home for seven days’.
The NSW government says, ‘If your child has no symptoms, and there is a positive case in their class, year, or other grouping, they can continue to attend school in line with NSW Health advice’.
The advice also says that fresh air ‘is the most effective form of ventilation to minimise the risk of transmission’.
‘All learning spaces in public schools have been checked to ensure appropriate levels of ventilation and air purifiers have been provided where needed’.
‘All primary and secondary school staff will be required to wear masks indoors.
‘Secondary school students are also required to wear masks while primary school students are strongly recommended to wear well-fitted masks indoors’.
Other information includes advice around activities – extra-curricular, out-of-school hours or off-site activities – student cohorting with staggered drop-off and pick up times, break times and playground and canteen access, and school visitors and students learning from home.
Meanwhile, the NSW Teachers Federation say they ‘will closely monitor the effectiveness of COVID risk mitigation measures as thousands of teachers and students return to the classroom’.
Disruptive start expected, say union
Union president, Angelo Gavrielatos, said teachers and principals are bracing themselves for what will inevitably be a disruptive start to the school year.
‘Omicron has taught us that nowhere is safe’, Mr 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’.
‘And there’s a good reason for that.
‘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’.
For more information, visit: www.nsw.gov.au/covid-19.