Under-developed COVID Return to School plan needs revising

The Australian Education Union Tasmanian Branch calls on the State Government to revisit its under-developed back-to-school plan amid growing teacher unrest ahead of the 2022 school year.

AEU representatives this week met with Government and Department of Education officials to raise concerns about the COVID Return to School plan – a measure union President David Genford said lacked initiative.

It comes as the AEU this week released its eight-point Safe Schools 2022 operational plan outlining measures needed in Tasmanian schools to help safeguard staff and students against COVID-19.

The AEU is calling for:

  1. Proper ventilation audit:

Ventilation in all school learning spaces must, as a matter of urgency, be measured using CO2 monitors to determine if they are safe for staff and student occupancy.

  1. Isolation requirements: 

Educators must not be exempted from the definition of close contacts. This forces staff to return to work, despite knowing they could be a risk to their students and colleagues. 

  1. Proper and adequate mask availability in all schools:

Cloth and surgical masks are insufficient to adequately protect people from the Omicron variant. The Government must ban cloth masks for students and make available N95 or P2 masks to all staff.

  1. Free and available RATs:

Rapid Antigen Tests need to be made available freely to all staff, students and families to keep schools safe and reassure anxious parents, carers, students and staff.

  1. Thorough assessment of available relief teacher numbers:

To ensure schools can continue operating safely, proper assessment is needed to identify all relief teachers willing and able to work in 2022. 

  1. Flexible working arrangements:

Educators should only be required to attend their school for tasks which require their physical presence, such as teaching. Other duties should be undertaken remotely.

  1. Reduced gatherings:

All non-essential activities and events with increased attendance or participation should be postponed for safety reasons, including physical gatherings like assemblies.

  1. Ongoing support and consultation

The AEU is ready and willing to work with DoE and Government to ensure learning in 2022 occurs in the safest possible way. So that this can happen, the DoE must frequently update and consult with educators ahead of any further measures.

Mr Genford said teachers and school staff were rightfully feeling anxious about returning school with the limited safety measures in place.

“Parents, as well as teachers, are also understandably concerned about sending their kids to school under the current arrangements,” he said.

“While it’s pleasing to finally see a government back-to-school covid plan in place, it’s clear much more needs doing. The safety of our staff and students cannot be compromised.

“Bare minimum safety measures are not good enough. The State Government must show a proactive approach and do everything possible to prevent COVID outbreaks in our schools.”

The State Government’s under-developed COVID schools plan comes as the Federal Labor Party this week pledged to significantly invest in education during the COVID-19 recovery, with new targeted funding for public schools.

“We warmly welcome this commitment of $50 million for COVID-19 related capital works which would help our schools access much needed resources such as air purifiers, improved ventilation and outdoor classrooms, ensuring our school communities can be as safe as possible,” Mr Genford said.

“Providing public schools with 100 per cent of the Schooling Resource Standard will ensure Tasmanian schools have more teachers, smaller class sizes, greater individual attention and more support to assist students to achieve to their full potential.”