COVID-19

Leaked plan reveals drastic back-to-school steps

High-level leaked planning documents from the Education Department, obtained by the Sunday Herald Sun, reveal the actions under consideration for a safe return to school. Under the frameworks, which are not yet finalised or confirmed, excursions, camps, assemblies and performances would be halted in a bid to minimise spread.Indoor sporting classes and outdoor contact sports would also be banned.And parents would also be turned away from mingling at the school gate, while cohorts would be restricted from mixing together in one big group on campus. The draft documents, stamped by “Victoria state government department of education and training”, state that all students — aged over 12 — should have one dose “to attend school by 2022”, while those in Year 11 and 12 — should be fully vaccinated. It’s understood there were also discussions around vaccinations being given to primary aged students from mid-next year, subject to approvals from the Therapeutics Goods Administration. The state government say the leaked plans will not inform their decisions about getting kids back to school.But sources from inside the Department of Education said the prospect of mandatory vaccinations for kids had been discussed at length, with a tracking system even proposed to monitor the vaccine status of students. One source, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said there was a growing acceptance that not every student would get a vaccine. However, the state government maintains that mandatory vaccinations for children are not under consideration.It comes after all education staff – including teachers, administration, support workers and cleaners — were this week advised they would be subjected to a vaccine mandate to return to school in Term 4. They must have at least one jab by October 18 or have a booking in the following week, and be fully vaccinated by November 29. “Children under 12 do not have access to a vaccine, so we’ve got to protect our kids, both from contracting the virus and transmitting the virus when they go home to their families,” Education Minister James Merlino said. NED-4588-VIC-roadmap-out-of-lockdownThe same rule applies for early childhood educators, with the planning documents flagging it would also extend that mandate to parents. It would mean parents couldn’t access childcare from January next year unless they were fully vaccinated.“As children in (early childcare) will not be vaccinated well into 2022 at best, centres will need to manage risks for a prolonged period of time and may face further closures and impacts on services,” the leaked document read. It’s not yet clear whether schools would experience full closures in the event of future outbreaks, or whether it would be limited to specific year levels. Departmental reviews found that remote and flexible learning was a “positive experience” for some students.“There is an opportunity to offer a limited number of students greater flexibility in how they undertake their schooling in the future, including undertaking a blend of onsite and online (learning),” the document stated. Stephen Fraser, deputy secretary responsible for student vaccination, said the leaked plans will not form part of the department’s decision making. “We’ve outlined our plans to make sure that once Victorian schools are open, they stay open — with an unprecedented investment in better ventilation in schools, vaccination becoming a requirement of work for all school staff, and vital COVIDSafe steps to protect Victorian school communities when students return to the classroom.” Deakin University’s Chair of Epidemiology Professor Catherine Bennett said a “comprehensive” plan was needed to help safety proof schools. “Schools, as they were with Delta, were far too risky. I think this stepped approach is a much better alternative,” Professor Bennett said. “Going forward, the biggest risk is that infection will spread, but the key thing is minimising disruption. If we’re moving away from lockdowns, we want to be preventing school-wide shutdowns too.” Year 12s will return to onsite learning full time from October 6, followed by Preps and Year 1s from October 18.All other year levels will have returned on a part-time basis by November 5.Professor Bennett said that staged return to school would provide a clear picture of how the 2022 year could commence.It comes as the state government this week announced a landmark education Covid safety blitz to install more than 50,000 air purification devices in classrooms and high-risk school settings. New shade sails would also be funded to promote outdoor learning.Year 7 student Mitch McLaren, from Ferntree Gully, said he was thrilled to be returning to the classroom.“(Remote learning) has been pretty tough, so I’m definitely looking forward to returning to school,” he said.The 13-year-old said he was most looking forward to seeing his friends and “doing all the other things” that can’t be done from home. “I’m very excited,” he added.CLEARING THE AIR IN BACK-TO-SCHOOL PLANDozens of air purifiers with HEPA filters have been donated to schools across Melbourne by cleaning giant Kärcher, as the education system prepares to start welcoming students back to the classroom. Kärcher’s Jo Clark said the company thought the gesture would give students and parents “hope” while they wait for the staged return to onsite learning. “The professional air purifiers remove particles of dust, pollen, odours, chemical gases and germs from the air,” Ms Clark said. “Its powerful motor only needs a few minutes to provide a room up to 100m² with fresh, clean air.”

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