News Coronavirus Education Minister Dan Tehan slams Victoria refusal to reopen schools, then backs down

Education Minister Dan Tehan slams Victoria refusal to reopen schools, then backs down

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews wants schools to stay shut, like this North melbourne school. Photo: AAP
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The federal Education Minister has lashed out at Victoria, urging parents to ignore that state’s Premier Daniel Andrews and instead follow medical experts and send their children back to school.

Dan Tehan accused Mr Andrews of taking a “sledgehammer” to the state’s education sector as tension rises between the state and federal governments.

Later admitting he “overstepped the mark”, Mr Tehan issued a press release conceding he should not have criticised “Premier Andrew’s leadership on this matter” and withdrew his comments.

The initial stinging criticism came on the same morning Victorian health authorities confirmed a teacher at the Meadowglen primary school in Melbourne’s northern suburbs had tested positive for COVID-19.

Ironically, parents and staff at the Epping school were being notified of the diagnosis even as Mr Tehan was on ABC Insiders denouncing Mr Andrews for “a failure of leadership” by ignoring the recommendation of the National Cabinet.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison wants all public schools to return to face-to-face learning by June, but Victoria has insisted it would make its own decisions about when parents should send children back to classrooms.

“The question to Daniel Andrews, sure, take a sledgehammer to defeating coronavirus, but why are you taking a sledgehammer to the state education system?” Mr Tehan told Insiders.

Education Minister Dan Tehan is on a collision course with Victoria. Photo: AAP

Victorian state schools, which remain open on a limited basis, have been running online learning for up to 97 per cent of students this term.

That’s based on the advice from Victorian chief health officer Brett Sutton, who has warned restarting teaching in classrooms now could jeopardise the state’s progress in reducing coronavirus transmission.

“[Daniel Andrews’] state chief medical officer is on the expert medical panel that says it is safe for children to be in schools,” Mr Tehan said.

“We have seen outstanding leadership from [state leaders in WA, NT and South Australia] who have reopened their schools and have a 70 per cent attendance rate.

Premier Daniel Andrews has vowed not to bow to pressure. Photo: AAP

“This is a failure of leadership from Dan Andrews and it is the most disadvantaged children who are being most affected.

“We have one state premier who is jeopardising the national consensus on this.”

Mr Tehan, in recent days, offered to bring forward $3 billion in funding for independent and Catholic schools if they could get students back into the classroom by June.

The principal of a Melbourne religious school said his school felt like it was “being bribed” into bringing students back.

Victorian Health Minister Jenny Mikakos told reporters on Sunday the school would be shut for three days of cleaning and disinfecting.

She said 1384 Victorians had been diagnosed with the virus, another 13 joining the list over the past 24 hours.

The state’s Education Minister James Merlino offered a similar sentiment, and accused the federal government of using the funding to try to undermine the state’s strategy on face-to-face learning.

“Expert health advice, not money, should determine whether nor not a school fully opens,” he said.

– with wires