COVID-19 rules in ACT public schools will be significantly eased next week, bringing school settings in line with the broader community. It comes as the Territory records its 55th death of the pandemic and the fourth this week with COVID-19, a woman in her 80s.
A further 1053 new infections have been confirmed.
From Monday (9 May), masks will no longer be mandatory for secondary school students, although staff will continue to wear them in spaces where physical distancing cannot be maintained.
Household contacts will be able to attend ACT public schools for work or study as long as they have met ACT Health’s mitigation requirements for household contacts, which includes returning a negative rapid antigen test (RAT) before attending campus and abiding by ongoing testing requirements.
However, students and teachers won’t be required to ‘prove’ this negative test result. Minister for Education Yvette Berry said today she expected students, teachers and everyone in school communities to continue to do the right thing.
RATs will continue to be available through schools on a needs basis.
Students deemed a household contact who may not feel comfortable attending school would be able to access the Directorate’s online learning resources, Ms Berry said.
Furthermore, parents and carers will be able to return to campus to participate in activities such as after-hours performances, fundraisers and events, and picking up and dropping off their children, and checking in will no longer be required.
Keeping student cohorts separate will also no longer be required, but schools will be asked to consider other mitigations like minimising the length of time or the number of students participating in organised activities together. Density requirements will no longer apply but schools are asked to maintain physical distancing.
After 13 May, COVID-19 vaccination will no longer be mandated for any staff working in ACT public schools.
It’s still unclear whether the 40 Education Directorate staff who have not been vaccinated will return to face-to-face teaching roles. Ms Berry said that would be up for discussion with the Education Directorate and depend on individual circumstances.
“Some of that will be face-to-face learning, some of that may not be,” she said.
Ms Berry would also not be drawn on whether the former school principal Rob Lans would be returning to his role at Charnwood-Dunlop.
Mr Lans last year appeared in a video alongside One Nation Senator Malcolm Roberts where he criticised the vaccine mandate for teachers.
COVID-safe cleaning will continue and all Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) plans for public schools will be updated for the winter months ahead.
ACT Chief Health Officer Dr Kerryn Coleman had provided health advice to the government before Term One, advising that COVID-19 rules could be relaxed. Earlier this week, it was announced the mandate requiring teachers to be vaccinated would come to an end on 13 May.
But although independent and Catholic schools dropped these requirements ahead of school going back this term, ACT public school arrangements remained the same for the first two weeks of term so consultation could take place.
Yesterday Opposition spokesperson for education Jeremy Hanson was critical of how long it had taken the government to provide clarity to parents around what the settings would be going forward.
“It’s very disappointing. There’s more confusion and there’s more chaos in our schools,” Mr Hanson said. “[Students, teachers and families] need to know what’s going on and they need to know earlier.”
He described Ms Berry as “chaotic with her communication”.
But Ms Berry defended the government’s decision to work with unions and teachers before making a decision on COVID-19 arrangements.
It was revealed yesterday that cohorts of students at three ACT public schools have also moved temporarily to remote learning due to staffing shortages exacerbated by the pandemic.
The ACT has recorded 1053 (549 PCSR, 504 RAT) new COVID-19 cases in the last reporting period, taking the total active local caseload to 5845 (2972 PCR and 2873 RAT).
Since the pandemic began, there have been 109,879 (68,272 PCR and 41,607 RAT) infections recorded in the ACT.
There are 66 people in hospital with the virus. Five people require intensive care, but no one is being ventilated.
The double-dose vaccination rate for the ACT’s five-plus population remains 97.1 per cent and 75.5 per cent of residents aged 16 and older have now received a booster.
Of ACT residents aged five to 11, 66.2 per cent have received two doses of vaccine.
Interstate, NSW has reported seven deaths overnight and 10,995 new cases of COVID-19.
There are now 1499 people in hospital with the virus and 54 people in ICUs around the state.
Victoria has reported nine deaths overnight and an additional 10,305 cases of COVID-19.
There are now 502 people hospitalised with the virus, while 31 patients are in the state’s intensive care units.