We need closure date, school principals say

Principals unite on health stance. Photo: Shutterstock
Principals unite on health stance. Photo: Shutterstock

PUBLIC school teachers are pressing the government for the date it will close schools, saying they can't lead partially empty classes while at the same time arranging work for students staying home.

NSW Primary Principals Association president Phil Seymour said it was becoming "increasingly difficult" for schools to remain operational as teachers and students started to withdraw over concerns for their health.

"We can't offer social distancing in classrooms in primary schools," Mr Seymour said.

"Staff are anxious about their own health and the health of the families they go back to."

Premier Gladys Berejiklian said on Wednesday the government believed "the best option for schools is that they stay open".

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Greens MP and education spokesperson David Shoebridge said the government also needed to immediately develop options for if or when a decision is made for schools to close.

He said the current "all or nothing" policy was "inappropriate".

"It's time to stop drip feeding information and make firm plans so that families know what is going on and can plan ahead," he said.

"We acknowledge the public health advice that does not support the immediate closure of schools but we still need a clear timetable and advice for parents.

"This should include guarantees that schools will retain a minimum supervision mode to supervise children from families who need this after any closures."

If they're saying social distancing is that important, well we can't really do it for the majority of the day.

NSW Primary Principals Association president Phil Seymour

Mr Seymour said the association expected to meet with government representatives on Wednesday night.

"The Department of Education is following advice from the Department of Health but we're questioning when will we do it [close]- it's a matter of when, not if."

He said between 20 and 25 per cent of students were staying away at most schools and their families were "demanding" work for them to do at home.

"We can't be at school taking a class and trying to also send work home for children," he said. "It's a bone of contention."

He echoed the NSW Teachers Federation's concerns about social distancing being impossible in the classroom.

"If they're saying social distancing is that important, well we can't really do it for the majority of the day," he said.

"It's causing anxiety for us. We want to do the right thing, we're working for society, we're listening to the best advice that health can give us, but the question is how much longer can we continue with this?"

Mr Seymour said an increasing number of teachers weren't coming to work.

"A colleague has 15 staff members away at home and can't get casuals, so is having to combine classes - that's exacerbating the issue for us."

Mr Seymour said teachers were having to tell families who want work sent home - apart from cases where children are immunodeficient - that they can't provide it.

"We have to say 'Well school has the work, if they were at school they'd get it'," he said. "It's very difficult."

The association's Lake Macquarie president Lee Saurins said teachers go above and beyond every day in the school setting, "and when there are times of great difficulty teachers go way beyond".

"They're carrying their own burdens in terms of their own families, worries and anxieties and they're turning up like they do every single day because their main focus is the wellbeing of students."

Meanwhile, St Philip's Christian College at Waratah will introduce "dual delivery" to all grades from Monday.

Principal Pam O'Dea said the school would remain open and deliver lessons as normal, but students would be allowed to stay home and learn using an online learning management system already in place, called iLearn.

"We want to prepare the students to feel confident that should there be forced school closures that they feel ready to continue effectively with their education," she said.

"For parents as well it helps in a time of uncertainty they trust we can and will be dependable."

The school will trial the arrangement on Thursday with year 11 students, who will be studying from home using Macbooks.

"It will be the normal timetable, but delivered online," she said.

"The students are very excited and positive about it and the parents are very supportive. They will be formal lessons - students need to be in uniform and come with a learning mindset."

Students will use Microsoft Teams software today, but the school will have access to Zoom video conference technology next week.

Ms O'Dea said if the school did close, it would retain a focus on pastoral care and may have a chaplain available to speak with students at lunch. "They could feel a bit isolated, so it's important to make them feel a part of their community."

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This story We need closure date, school principals say first appeared on Newcastle Herald.