While Scott Morrison has continually reiterated Australian schools must stay open throughout the coronavirus pandemic, there was confusion from parents and teachers on Monday after conflicting advice was issued across several states.
In defiance of the prime minister’s stance, Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews announced schools across the state would bring their school holidays forward and would close to students from Tuesday.
NSW schools remain open
On Monday morning NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian addressed reporters regarding the future of schools amid the outbreak, however her message was less clear.
She announced schools will remain open but encouraged parents to keep children at home.
“For practical reasons, in NSW, we will be encouraging parents to keep their children at home,” she said at a press conference on Monday.
“I want to stress that, for parents that have no option, for parents that are workers and have no option, the school is safe for children to attend,” she reiterated.
Parents, teachers confused by NSW coronavirus advice
A primary school teacher in Sydney’s eastern suburbs told Yahoo News Australia she and other colleagues were “not happy” with the ongoing confusion brought about by the conflicting messages from the state and federal government.
She said there had been a certain air of discontent from teachers in recent weeks over a lack of direction and instruction amid the escalating outbreak.
“Parents keep coming up to me this morning asking if I have more information because they’re confused,” she said.
“They’re not sure what they’re supposed to be doing.”
She said they too do not know what is going on.
The teacher said on Monday 10 pupils had not shown up for school from her class of 24.
And while nearly half of her class are staying home, she said some parents are choosing to send their children to school for their children’s benefit.
“A lot of parents are deciding to keep their kids here even if they’re working from home because it’s easier and a better routine,” she said.
The teacher said 12 members of staff at her school had indicated on Monday they would not be returning to work because they “don’t feel safe and some live with elderly people”.
She said she wouldn’t hesitate in walking off the job as well if schools continue to stay open as the outbreak worsens.
“I’m hoping the government comes to its senses before that though,” she said.
States align or break free from Morrison’s messaging
On Monday Tasmania Premier Peter Gutwein also expressed views children will cope far better inside educational facilities.
“The closure of schools poses a major risk to children's education, their mental health and wellbeing, particularly those from low socioeconomic regions, where schools provide an important environment for nurturing and learning,” he told reporters.
In contrast to Mr Morrison, Federal Minister for Education Dan Tehan hinted at provisions for children to remain at home.
“If parents want to send their kids to school, they should do so,” he told the ABC.
“The chief medical officer's advice – and that of the medical panel which includes all the chief medical officers from the states and territories - is that it is safe to send your kids to school.”
The message from Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk was strikingly similar to Ms Berjekilian’s address earlier.
“Parents have a choice,” she said, announcing children would be allowed to stay at home while confirming schools will remain open.
Like NSW, children at home in Queensland would have online access to the same material being taught in the classroom.
On Monday, it was also announced schools in NT and South Australia would remain open, however moving forward it was accepted some would be staying home.
Teachers’ strike possible if Queensland schools aren’t closed
However the Queensland Teachers Union has called on the state government to close schools to students from Wednesday and have all pupils learning from home.
Union president Kevin Bates says students should not be in class by the end of the week, and teachers, who are feeling “abandoned and endangered” need time to gear up for what comes next.
Teachers have “lost confidence in the decision-making around the continued operation of schools and TAFE during the coronavirus pandemic,” QTU said in a statement on Monday.
“It beggars belief that schools and TAFE remain open while a whole range of other businesses close.”
Teachers are angered by the two sets of rules and say that no one is talking about what might happen to them if they're infected by students.
They report public schools don't have enough hand sanitiser and soap, and there is no possible way for them to enforce the four-square-meters per person rule in classrooms.
"Personally I am disgusted with the message being sent that we are glorified babysitters so that others can go to work. The message that teachers are sacrificial lambs," one Gold Coast high school teacher told AAP, on condition of anonymity.
Mr Bates failed to rule out industrial action if the QTU’s demands aren’t met, with the QTU Executive to make a decision on the matter after meeting at 5pm on Monday.
Confused parents need ‘clear’ messages
Jenni Rickard, president of the Australian Parents Council told Yahoo News Australia parents across the country are “terribly confused” by the current situation.
Raising three children in the ACT, Ms Rickard said after Mr Morrison insisted schools would remain open despite the territory’s government announcing earlier it would close schools on Tuesday, the community simply had no idea who to listen to.
“The chaos we had on social media last night with parents trying to figure out when they were actually supposed to send their kids to school was unbelievable. It was crazy,” she said.
Ms Rickard said that the differing information coming from federal and state governments was of concern to parents, who are confused about the short-term and long-term plans.
“It’s really difficult and just makes the messaging more confusing for parents who are just trying to figure out beyond all the politics what they’re required to do with their kids,” she said.
“We need really clear messages from our politicians, not only about what the plan is moving forward in terms of closing schools but what happens after that.
“How do we transition to online models? What’s going to happen for children with additional needs or for children with parents who still have to go to work? That’s still not very clear.
“We need some real key messaging about how that’s going to work.”
Ms Rickard said there was “real concern” for some families who cannot accomodate their children’s learning at home, particularly rural and remote families or families from lower income areas.
She even questioned whether the NBN could cope with an influx of online users daily.
“It’s going to be used by every household in the country so whats going to happen?” she asked.
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