Teachers are threatening to walk off the job in New South Wales and Queensland unless greater protections are put in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
After a day of confusion over how the school shutdowns will work, most states plan to try and keep schools open for doctors, nurses, police, other “essential services” workers, and vulnerable children at risk of harm.
Victoria and the ACT announced on Sunday that extended holidays would begin on Tuesday, with teachers working on distance learning options.
But they will remain open for health workers and children will not be turned away.
But teachers are warning greater safety protections must be put in place, including allowing at-risk teachers to opt out and stay home.
In NSW, where there are 700 COVID-19 cases and rising, the Teachers Federation released a statement on Monday night revealing it is now threatening to walk off the job unless safety demands can be met.
Teachers have been thrust onto the frontline of this crisis.
The Premier has failed to provide any reassurance for our public school teachers and principals. 👇🏻
— Angelo Gavrielatos (@AGavrielatos) March 22, 2020
“The Prime Minister’s statements on Sunday evening were hypocritical and contradictory, while the Premier [Gladys Berejiklian] failed to provide unequivocal advice this morning. What we have now is a recipe for chaos,’’ the statement said.
“We are told children are low-risk agents for the virus at school but suddenly become high-risk agents in shopping centres and playgrounds, while also ignoring the fact that tens of thousands are travelling on trains and buses each morning and afternoon.
“We are told there is concern about kids infecting grandparents but not teachers, many of whom are also grandparents.”
Ms Berejiklian has asked parents to keep children away from school, but also said schools would remain open for emergency services workers and other essential services.
“The health advice has not changed,” Ms Berejiklian said.
“However, for practical reasons in NSW we will be encouraging parents to keep their children at home.
“Already last week we had up to 30 per cent of parents who chose to keep their [children] at home, and we appreciate and anticipate that number will increase.
“I want to stress for parents that are workers and have no option, the school is safe for children to attend schools.
“No child will be turned away from school.”
Tough new restrictions from midday to keep the community safe. pic.twitter.com/DW64ejt01Y
— Gladys Berejiklian (@GladysB) March 22, 2020
Teachers who are deemed at risk from the coronavirus have on Monday been given the right to work from home in NSW.
The NSW Teachers Federation will hold further talks on Tuesday.
“We are prepared to work constructively with the government to arrive at a definition of essential services workers and commence a transition process to ensure facilities remain open to provide minimal supervision for children of affected workers,” the statement said.
“Systems will be in place to provide complete health protection for all teachers – this would include allowing any teacher who is not confident of health protection at their workplace to work from home.
“If … these conditions cannot be demonstrably met, then the executive will be professionally bound to call for the closure of public schools and the provision of ongoing education via distance technologies.”
Queensland Teachers Union (QTU) president Kevin Bates said teaching staff were being put at risk.
“We don’t accept that you have to have social distancing in terms of closing down parks and beaches and other things, but you can have 3000 students at a school and that is OK,” Mr Bates said.
“What we are saying is enough is enough.”
In South Australia, Premier Steve Marshall wants schools to remain open.
Mr Marshall said he recognised that some parents would want to keep their children at home but urged them to take responsibility.
“If parents are going to take their children out of school, they do have a massive responsibility to keep those children safe and supervised,” Mr Marshall said.
“And they also need to recognise that if they do this it’s not a two-week requirement, these restrictions are likely to be in place for six months.”
In the ACT, schools will remain open for those who “absolutely need to attend”.