Gladys Berejiklian says NSW schools are a safe place but recommended children stay home if possible. Image by Bianca De Marchi/AAP PHOTOS

Environment

Call for unity on NSW school virus advice

2020-03-25 14:43:37

There’s “enormous anxiety” among parents, students and teachers in NSW who are calling on the government to provide clarity on how schools are operating during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Federation of Parents and Citizens Associations of NSW called for unified advice after Premier Gladys Berejiklian advised schools would remain open but recommended parents keep children at home if possible. 

The prime minister meanwhile, says there is no health-related reason for children not to go to schools.

“This has generated enormous anxiety amongst parents and students and placed many parents in a difficult situation,” a P&C Federation NSW spokesman said in a statement on Tuesday.

NSW Education Minister Sarah Mitchell insists the message around schools is clear.

“School is open for those who need to attend,” she told reporters in Sydney on Tuesday.

Ms Mitchell said the absentee rate across public schools was 41 per cent on Monday which she expected to increase significantly on Tuesday.

A teacher at a Catholic high school in central Sydney, who spoke to AAP on the condition of anonymity, said only three-of-26 students were at roll call on Tuesday while just seven-of-25 students attended his woodwork class.

“I am actively telling students to not come to school,” he said.

Teachers were effectively “babysitting” students who couldn’t be supervised by their parents or didn’t have the technology at home to complete online learning, he said.

“The vast majority of teachers want the school to be shut,” he said.

“(Staff are) not impressed.”

The NSW premier insists schools are a safe place and that it’s appropriate for public schools to start online learning in case the COVID-19 outbreak worsens.

Ms Berejiklian says she hopes by the end of the school holidays the situation will go back to normal but the measures in place will make sure NSW is ready if that’s not the case.

“I don’t want to be another example of a jurisdiction that didn’t do what it needed to do at the right time,” she told reporters on Tuesday.

NSW Labor leader Jodi McKay reiterated her call for schools, TAFE and childcare centres to be closed in the face of “conflicting messages”.

“We cannot have a situation where we have the prime minister saying one thing, the premier saying another and principals saying yet another message to the school community,” she told reporters in Sydney.

“Some of these newsletters going to parents overnight and today say that classes will continue as normal; some say that schools are open, however, only for the children of essential service industries; some say that the premier has advised to keep your children at home.

“It is inconsistent. It is not clear.”