The return-to-school plan for Victorian schools sees a shift in focus to keeping students in the classroom, writes ISV's Chief Executive Michelle Green.
We now have details of how schools will operate in Term One, with the release by the Victorian Government of protocols and plans to ensure schools can safely open – and remain open – in the latest phase of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The past two years have placed unprecedented demands on schools and their communities, with families having to navigate extended periods of remote learning.
This next phase represents a marked change, with the focus on keeping students in the classroom, supported by measures to keep schools COVID-safe. As the Deputy Premier James Merlino said yesterday, under the plan ‘remote learning will be an absolute last resort’, and if needed, would be short term and localised.
Premier Daniel Andrews said the plan, to be in place for four weeks before being reviewed, aimed to ensure schools were as safe as they can be. But he said outbreaks of COVID-19 among teachers, support staff and students are inevitable.
A Government media release also includes a reference to advice from the Chief Health Officer that ‘education settings are likely to be linked to a significant number of cases once the academic year commences after the holiday period’.
Here are the key elements of the government announcement:
Rapid Antigen Tests
The Victorian Government will provide more than 14 million Rapid Antigen Tests to schools and early childhood education and care services, including 6.6 million tests to be delivered in the first week of term.
Surveillance testing will be ‘strongly recommended’ for all primary and secondary school students and staff, and early childhood education and care staff, twice-weekly at home before school or childcare.
Students and staff at specialist schools will be recommended to test five days each week due to the higher risk of severe illness for medically vulnerable children.
School and early childhood staff will be added to the list of workers who must receive a third dose of a COVID-19 vaccine by 25 February if they were fully vaccinated on or before 25 October 2021. For those who that became fully vaccinated after 25 October 2021, the deadline is 15 March 2022.
Regarding student vaccinations, more than 29 per cent of children aged 5-11 have had one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, and the Government says it is working to ensure all children in this group have access to two doses by the end of Term One.
Mask wearing will continue, with students in Grade 3 and above required to wear masks – although they will not be required outdoors. Teachers will be required to wear masks at all times when not actively teaching or communicating with students.
The way COVID-19 cases are managed and reported in education settings will change from Term One, Schools and kindergartens will be required to inform staff, parents and carers when there is a positive case and will provide advice on any steps families are required to take.