'We need strong messages': Confusion after state announces 'child-free' schools

Brooke Rolfe
News Reporter

There is yet more confusion surrounding what’s happening with schools amid the coronavirus pandemic, as the prime minister faces increasing pressure to order nationwide closures.

Addressing the media on Thursday, Queensland premier Annastacia Palaszczuk announced that while schools from next week would be “student free”, they would also be remaining open.

Teachers, she said, were preparing to transition into having students learning from home, however school gates would continue to be open for kids of parents working in “essential” services.

“Schools will remain open but it will allow children of essential workers and vulnerable children to remain at school,” Ms Palaszczuk told reporters.

“This is really important. It's exactly what we have been pushing, that the essential workers, and that means really anyone who is currently in our work force.”

Parents are encouraged to keep their kids home, unless they provide an essential service. Source: Getty Images

She said this was designed to aid workers in the healthcare field, emergency service workers, police, Coles and Woolworths employees, and “a whole different range of industries”.

“I know the community has had a lot of mixed reactions and we have listened, and I think it's very important that we do cater for our schools across the state,” she said.

People aged over 60, and those with underlying illnesses, employed by a school would not be required to continue going, and could choose to work from home instead.

“This is an unprecedented time in our history. These measures are at the discretion of the states, and we have made this decision, collectively.”

Confusion over mixed messages

While many praised the approach to school closures in Queensland, there were some members of the public still not overly convinced the government was sending a clear message.

“So Queensland schools will close to all students next week except for those of 'essential workers'. And an essential worker is anyone with a job. This - again - feels like having your education and cancelling it too,” one person wrote to Twitter.

“So now in Queensland, schools are closed, except they're not. If only we had some leadership in this piss ant country,” another said.

Other pupil-free schools

Leaders in Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia announced on Thursday school holidays would be brought forward, in a similar move to what Victoria and the ACT have already done.

South Australian schools will move to pupil free days beginning next week so teachers can begin planning to transition to flexible learning in Term 2.

NSW schools remain open but Premier Gladys Berejiklian has urged parents to keep their children at home if possible.

On Thursday, she flagged her state was readying to move into a full lockdown over the weekend, possibly ahead of federal government action, if the situation with the spread of the virus doesn't improve.

Ms Palaszczuk said heath advice has not changed, but the pupil-free directive provides the right balance given community concerns. Source: AAP

Victorian schools were closed on Tuesday, with the state bringing forward the Easter holiday break.

ACT schools went pupil-free from Tuesday and will continue to operate that way until school holidays begin on Friday, April 10.

West Australian premier Mark McGowan told reporters on Thursday public schools would have their last formal day of teaching next Friday, then provide supervision only before closing for school holidays on April 9.

“Children of people who need their children to attend school, to enable them to maintain employment and whose children are in vulnerable families, are encouraged to attend school next week, continuity of education for as long as possible is best,” WA eduction minister Sue Ellery told reporters.

AMA supports schools shutdown

Australian Medical Association president Tony Bartone has called on the federal government to close schools and non-essential workplaces to fight the spread of coronavirus.

“It is a big call for governments to direct the population to cease work, suspend schools, and only leave home for essential needs, but the AMA will back governments in making this call,” he said on Wednesday.

Dr Bartone said too many Australians were already flouting existing rules while mixed messaging from governments had brought about confusion and anxiety.

“We need strong consistent messages from all levels of government. More people need to be at home to flatten the escalation curve.”

Why keep schools open?

The government cited multiple reasons for not ordering a closure of all schools in Australia, including concerns it would disrupt society and the educational progress of students more than is necessary.

It also expressed concern that children not in school would instead be out in the community potentially spreading the disease to more vulnerable people.

Up to 30 per cent of the medical workforce could be required to stay home to look after their children if schools closed, the government believes.

This could have major flow-on effects as the country’s health system grapples with the crisis.

Children were also thought to not develop severe cases of the disease, and thus it’s hoped they were somewhat less likely to spread bad cases of COVID-19.

This, however, has not been backed up by the available evidence.

With AAP

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