Safe for schools to stay open in Term 2, say Liberals

Ian Bushnell 27 April 2020 148
Elizabeth Lee

Opposition education spokesperson Elizabeth Lee: no reason to close schools. Photo: Ian Bushnell.

The Canberra Liberals have accused the ACT Government of sowing confusion over its plans for remote learning, saying parents should be able to send their children to school as usual from this week.

Its stance on schools came after Education Minister Yvette Berry sparked a social media storm with a Facebook post many thought meant that teachers would go back to face-to-face learning after four weeks of Term 2.

Opposition education spokesperson Elizabeth Lee said on Friday (24 April) that the post was typical of the mixed messaging from the government and that parents deserved more certainty.

She also affirmed that the Liberals opposed mandatory remote learning and the closure of all but nine school hubs, saying that all the health advice on COVID-19 and children meant it was safe for schools to operate as normal.

She said the advice from the Chief Medical Officer down was that schools could and should stay open.

ANU infectious diseases expert Professor Peter Collignon has been particularly vocal about schools, saying the evidence suggests it is uncommon for children under 15 years to get or spread COVID-19.

Ms Lee said there was no good reason why the vast majority of ACT schools should be completely closed for Term 2, and she was concerned about the welfare of children who need to be at school.

”Parents are concerned that they are going to be forcing their children to other schools that are unfamiliar to them, supervised by adults that are unfamiliar to them, and surrounded by peers that are unfamiliar to them,” she said.

Ms Lee said Ms Berry’s post had upset and confused parents.

“This is already an unprecedented and challenging time,” she said. ”We know that the levels of anxiety among parents, teachers and students are already sky high, and we want to ensure that this isn’t exacerbated by decisions made by the ACT Government that have not been transparent, consistent or clear.

”We need to ensure that parents have peace of mind to send their children to their regular school.”

She said parents of children with autism had still not been advised whether their children and their special needs would be catered for at the hubs.

Ms Lee believed that there were enough teachers who wanted to be back in the classroom, and vulnerable staff should be supported so they could work from home.

But the peak public schools parents body, the ACT Council of Parents and Citizens Associations, has backed the government’s plans for remote learning in Term 2.

“Every family’s circumstances and challenges are different. Some of our members absolutely believe that schools should be open now; however, the majority of our members fully support social distancing – and that means the majority of students not attending school,” Council President Kirsty McGovern-Hooley said.

“Simply, while social distancing measures are in place elsewhere, parents don’t feel schools should be any different.”

She said many parents did not want to take the risk, and absences had increased towards the end of Term 1.

”Our schools are well set up to commence next week. But there are no perfect solutions in this crisis. Very few parents like or welcome remote learning from home, but still consider it a better option than potential exposure of themselves and families to COVID-19,” she said.

”As social distancing measures are lifted, we will step back to schools in a structured way that supports our students and families.”

Ms Berry said that the Directorate would be reviewing the situation over the next four weeks, and then deciding about when face-to-face learning could resume, giving parents plenty of notice.


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