Victorian teachers have told the federal government to back off after becoming wedged in a feud between it and Premier Daniel Andrews.
New South Wales and Queensland are planning to start sending some kids back to classrooms, but the Victorian government will not consider opening schools until the state of emergency is lifted on May 11.
That state’s refusal to budge comes despite intense criticism from Liberal parliamentarians in what has been the first major sign of a fracturing in the bipartisan approach to tackling COVID-19.
In a controversial move, Scott Morrison even dangled a $3 billion carrot in front of independent schools with a promise to fast-track funding if they reopened their gates.
Educators, from both the public and private sectors, said the federal government should back off, and let them do their jobs.
“I’m happy they are closed,” said Adam Bremner, who teaches in the Macedon Ranges.
“I completely support the closing of the schools and I can’t believe the other states haven’t followed.
“To complicate a health issue is crazy. This is a tough time for everyone, but health is always a priority.
“This is tough for teachers. It would be tougher if we had sick kids. I would prefer online teaching rather than sick kids or colleagues.”
The move to remote learning had taken a toll on teachers, with many doing multiple hours of unpaid overtime each day, Mr Bremner said.
“Teachers have very different hours. We work school hours and the extra work is what we choose to do,” he said.
“How much effort is going into your classroom is about how much self-sacrifice you make, so for the education minister to make claims about our dedication or put that guilt on us, I think it was cruel.”
On Sunday, federal Education Minister Dan Tehan backtracked after accusing the Victorian Premier of taking a ‘sledgehammer’ to the state’s education sector.
“The question to Daniel Andrews, sure, take a sledgehammer to defeating coronavirus, but why are you taking a sledgehammer also to the state education system?” he told Insiders.
Some Victorian teachers told The New Daily that not only were the comments out of line, but they had unfairly given the perception teachers were slacking off.
This has added to the levels of stress and exhaustion in the teaching community, said Naomi O’Connor who teaches legal studies for VCE students in Shepparton and also runs a 600-strong Facebook group for teachers in the state.
“There has been a lot of media and social media backlash about schools not opening. That can be hurtful. So when teachers are working so hard, it’s like egg on their face,” Ms O’Connor said.
“Basically education is none of the federal government’s business. Scott Morrison has the right to withdraw funding from independent schools and I know he’s offered $3 million bonuses for those who go back.
“Yes, they have some right in that regard, but education is a state power. Always has been and always will be.
“They just need to keep their noses out of it.
“You’re talking about an industry that deals with children and everyone is concerned about their own child. So it’s just put people into a frenzy.
“We know parents are stressed. Many teachers are also parents. We empathise with other parents because we are them,” Ms O’Connor said.
“This language about schools ‘reopening’, they’re not closed down we’re still teaching. We haven’t given the whole country all of term two off. We’re just doing it differently.
“There’s no teacher in the land that is going to say ‘I don’t want to go back to school’ (once it’s deemed safe to do so).
“It’s far easier than this. I have never worked harder.”
Victoria’s chief health officer Brett Sutton has said he views keeping schools closed as an important measure to lower overall community transmissions and to stop it spreading between teachers and parents.
“I know there haven’t been significant outbreaks in schools … but again it may be that kids who are very minimally symptomatic could transmit to other children, and it can be a contribution to community transmission,” Professor Sutton said.
The fight over schools comes as teachers prepare to potentially have their students learning remotely for another term.
Transmission between children has become a continuous issue with Australia’s chief health officer Brendan Murphy saying on Sunday that although there was a risk for parents and adults in the staff room spreading COVID-19, it was slow for students.
“Our advice is transmission between children in schools is not well established,” Professor Murphy said.
“And in fact, there is increasing data now, data from Europe and the NSW study. We think children are not high transmitters of the virus in the school environment.”