Out until June: Union’s grim home schooling warning
HOME schooling could be stretched out until the end of the June school holidays, the teachers' union has told Queensland principals.
That is despite Australia's top medicos heaping more pressure on the Palaszczuk Government to allow students back into classrooms after declaring schools are safe and should reopen.
Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy said yesterday the nation's top health advisory body, which includes Queensland's chief health officer, had been unanimous that "schools are a safe environment to open".
But the powerful Queensland Teachers' Union is threatening to have schools shut down if "too many" kids turn up to class, or if schools are found to run short of cleaning products.
And it has told principals that skeleton schooling - with schools only admitting the children of essential workers - might stretch beyond the five weeks already announced by Queensland Education Minister Grace Grace.
"If health and safety is compromised - whether by lack of hygiene products or too many students attending - the union will seek to have the operation of schools suspended until the safety issue is resolved,'' Queensland Teachers' Union general secretary Graham Moloney said in an update to principals.
"The changes to school operation are currently in place only for the first five weeks of Term 2.
"In spite of speculation about an early relaxation of restrictions, the risk of a 'second wave' of infection may extend the changes for the remainder of the term.''
Shutting schools down until Term 3 would force about 450,000 children to study at home until July 13.
Professor Murphy was adamant yesterday during a Senate Inquiry into the response to COVID-19 that schools were safe .
"All state and territory health officials, all the experts that are advising me, about 30 of them, we all believe that schools are a safe environment to open," he said.
"They can be made safer for teachers by excluding those teachers who are vulnerable, the teachers and adults practising social distancing, practising good hygiene and so we are encouraging schools to reopen."
The revelation comes after the Queensland Government insisted it had closed the state's schools for the first five weeks of Term 2 on health advice, which Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has since refused to release.
Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young said yesterday that the "very difficult and tough" decision to close schools to all but the offspring of essential workers' and vulnerable children was based on her advice to Ms Palaszczuk of the need to "minimise movement and minimise contact".
The Queensland Teachers' Union had been calling for schools to shut down for Term 2 to all students except the children of essential workers, citing concerns for the health of students and some teachers
QTU president Kevin Bates said the union would discuss whether to keep schools half-closed when the state government reviews the situation in two weeks.
"The safety of students and everyone who works in schools will remain our priority," he said. "It is crucial to assess the status of the crisis at that time to determine what should happen in the second half of Term 2."
Ms Palaszczuk has said she "listened to the advice of the school community" to help make her decision.
"The teachers have a legitimate right to express their concerns," she said.
Prof Murphy said schools were not a "high risk for transmission from children" and the Australian Health Principle Protection Committee had been "consistent" in its advice that schools should remain open.
He said there had been some instances of student-to-teacher and teacher-to-teacher transmission but children did not seem to be transmitting coronavirus in schools.
"We have had concerns about adults, vulnerable teachers, older teachers and teachers with chronic disease and adult-to-adult transmission in the school environment so the measures we've recommended have been around that," he said.
The AHPPC released guidelines on April 16 for operating schools safely, citing that the "greatest risk of transmission in the school environment is between adults".
Education Queensland has advised state schools to limit class sizes to a maximum of 12 students.
"In a general learning area of 52m2, there should be no more than 12 students and one staff member,'' it states in Term 2 operating guidelines sent to schools.
But a Queensland Health spokesman yesterday revealed the dozen-student limit was not based on health advice: "Queensland Health has not issued a directive to have no more than 12 children in classes."
PM Scott Morrison, who is keen for his own daughters to return to their classrooms in New South Wales, said he welcomed moves from some states to reopen schools.
"The school changes are a very important step in how we reopen our economy going forward and, most importantly, to ensure that children are getting the best possible education," he said.
Currently, only the children of essential workers who cannot work from home, or vulnerable children known to the departments of Child Safety or Youth Justice are to physically go to school in Queensland.
Parents or carers working from home have been urged to contact principals if they have concerns.
QTU president Kevin Bates said the union would discuss whether to keep schools half-closed when the state government reviews the situation in two weeks' time.
"The safety of students and everyone who works in schools will remain our priority," he said.
"It is crucial to assess the status of the crisis at that time to determine what should happen in the second half of Term 2."
Originally published as Out until June: Union's grim home schooling warning