Government orders schools to reopen despite coronavirus fears

·3-min read

Independent schools will be forced to open in term two with the federal government threatening to pull funding if closures remain in place

Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan said independent schools no longer have the option to shut their doors during the coronavirus pandemic.

"They must provide a forum, they must keep their schools open so those students that can't be cared for at home can attend," he told Sky News on Thursday.

Schools ignoring the government order will risk funding.

"We have made it a condition that they are open to be able to provide that environment for those students, who can't safely learn at home, to be able to learn," Mr Tehan said.

Pictured is an empty classroom with a whiteboard.
The government says independent schools must open in term two. Source: AAP

The minister said medical experts continued to assure the government it is safe for schools to open.

He said working parents that couldn't accommodate home learning needed to have the option of sending children to school.

"If they're working we do not want them to have to make that decision between going to work and staying at home and educating their children," he said.

State and territory schools are taking different approaches, but all remain open.

In NSW and Victoria students are being told to stay at home if they can, while WA and the NT are encouraging parents to send children.

Pictured is a boy sitting at a desk doing his school work at home.
Primary school student Nate is one of many urged to work from home. Source: AAP

But schools across the country are remaining open despite large swathes of society being shut down.

"We want schools to be open so parents don't have to make that choice," Mr Tehan said.

"Essential workers are anyone who is working to help us get through this pandemic."

He also raised the prospect of year 12 students attending one or two days a week to complete practical learning.

Victoria outlines plan for term two

With term two resuming in Victoria on Wednesday, Premier Daniel Andrews has said students must learn from home if they can.

About 4000 SIM cards, 1000 internet dongles and more than 6000 laptops and tablets will be deployed to students to help the effort.

But schools will remain open for students who cannot stay home.

"We've got about a million students enrolled in government and non-government schools," Mr Andrews said.

"We cannot have a million students moving around the Victorian community every day."

Pictured is a pedestrian crossing lollypop man.
Schools will still be open for parents who can't keep their children at home. Source: AAP

Year 12 students could take longer to matriculate with end of year exams pushed out to at least December, but aren't likely to require a further year of study.

"We are not about 'year 13' or people repeating, we think we can get this done," said the premier, whose son Noah is in year 12.

The Victorian Council of Social Service praised the plan despite "a few rough edges" yet to be smoothed out.

But it may be tough to encourage disengaged students back to school once this ends, VCOSS chief executive Emma King said.

The state opposition also backed the plan, saying parents will need to take a more active role in their child's education.

Term two will go ahead for Northern Territory school students too with education compulsory and children expected to physically attend unless otherwise advised.

All students are expected to attend school from day one, Term 2 on Monday, April 20, the NT Government said in a statement.

"Unless your school contacts you directly with alternative arrangements, you should plan for your child to physically attend school," Education Minister Selena Uibo said.

"Exceptions can be made for parents who have informed the school their child will be learning from home."

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