As school students return for term two around the ACT, there’s still uncertainty around what the next 10 weeks will look like.
For public schools at least, which returned this morning, the first two weeks of term will look the same as the last.
Masks will be on for staff and high-school students, staff will be covered by a vaccine mandate and asymptomatic household contacts won’t be able to attend schools. Likewise, visitor restrictions to school campuses will remain in place and Check In CBR remains mandatory for any approved visitors.
The two-week holding period will allow consultation with staff, the directorate, principals and relevant unions to occur, Minister for Education Yvette Berry said today (26 April).
Ms Berry said it was important this consultation didn’t take place over the school holidays as it had been a “challenging” first term, and staff and teachers needed a break.
“We need to make sure there are safe and healthy work environments for our teachers and school staff,” she said.
However, she noted if any changes to COVID guidelines were made earlier, information would be communicated when available.
Last term, public schools and the ACT Education Directorate had a staged approach to managing staff absences due to COVID-19, with partial and full remote learning an option in the most critical cases.
Several schools were required to move to partial remote learning due to staff absences in term one.
As reported last week, Calwell High School students will all learn from home for the first week, while the Year 7 and 8 cohort will stay at home indefinitely as work continues to make that campus safe for students.
It comes after WorkSafe ACT barred students from campus after revealing critical safety issues at the school.
Ms Berry said the Directorate’s contingency plans would remain in place as there was uncertainty around how the Territory would be impacted by this year’s flu season.
While acknowledging the disruption caused by periods of remote learning, Ms Berry encouraged schools not to ‘break themselves’ to remain face-to-face when remote education systems and processes were already available.
“These decisions should be made on an individual school basis … we want them to be safe,” she said.
“We shouldn’t be worried about going to remote education.”
Catholic schools will immediately relax COVID rules in line with health advice provided to the broader community, meaning masks are out and household contacts of positive cases can attend campus if they return a negative test result.
Catholic Education Archdiocese of Canberra & Goulburn Ross Fox said other COVID safe measures such as social distancing, good ventilation and the use of hand sanitiser will continue.
“As per advice from the Chief Health Officer, masks will no longer be required. Staff and students who wish to continue wearing a mask will be free to do so,” he said.
“Staff and students who are a close contact of a person with COVID will be assessed and attend school under appropriate circumstances.”
Ms Berry said discussions were also ongoing between Catholic Education and the Association of Independent Schools of the ACT.
Independent schools are meeting today to discuss their arrangements.
Over the border, COVID requirements have eased significantly in NSW schools. Masks are no longer required and close contacts can continue to attend school if they test negative with a rapid antigen before school for five days.