Queensland's teachers are demanding the state close all schools to protect them from COVID-19. Image by PR HANDOUT IMAGE PHOTO

Health

Qld union awaits govt decision on schools

2020-03-25 11:56:15

The Queensland Teachers Union has scheduled more crisis talks with the state government in a bid to have schools closed from Wednesday.

The union says an earlier national consensus to keep schools open amid the coronavirus outbreak was shattered this week when some states decided to make their own calls.

Schools in Victoria and the ACT are now shut and Queensland teachers who fear becoming infected want the same protection.

The union has asked the government to keep students out of the classroom from Wednesday, so teachers are shielded from the virus and can focus on preparing materials for mass remote learning.

The QTU will continue to negotiate with the government on Tuesday, with president Kevin Bates playing down the likelihood of industrial action if teachers don’t win their battle.

“We’re not threatening strike action … that’s not where we are at this stage,” he told ABC radio

“There’s massive work that needs to be done in our schools to prepare (for a lockdown). Teachers are unable to do that … when they’re teaching as normal.”

Mr Bates says teachers deserve protection like any other worker, and the lack of any discussion about their health under the schools-open policy left them feeling extremely anxious.

Officially Queensland schools remain open, on the back of medical advice that it’s safe.

Treasurer Jackie Trad repeated that advice on Tuesday as she thanked educators for continuing to do their jobs.

“It is not the view of medical experts that schools should be closed at this point in time,” she told ABC radio.

Teachers have told AAP they’ve been put at risk by having to show up for work at schools that lack basic supplies including sufficient soap for hand washing.

They’ve also said rules on social distancing are literally impossible to achieve in school settings, and feel like risks to their own health have been ignored.

While schools in some states remain open, there appears to be some disagreement between experts. 

The time to shut schools is long overdue, says Griffith University researcher Professor Nigel McMillan who thinks Australia may be severely underestimating the number of coronavirus cases in the community. 

“The government has argued we need to keep the kids at school so they don’t go out in the community and spread infection,” Prof McMillan says. 

“This very reasoning is why they should in fact close schools.”

Meanwhile La Trobe University’s Associate Professor Hassan Vally says evidence does not support school closures at this point in the outbreak. 

He says a nation-wide closure would be counter-productive, however this may change in the future. 

“The decision to close schools should not be taken lightly as there are significant social and economic costs to society associated with this, as well as educational costs for the students,” he said.