Returning to classrooms after a 106-day lockdown in NSW (63 days in the ACT) will provoke mixed feelings in school staff, parents and students alike. Some will be pleased with the return to ‘normality’, others will be concerned about the risks involved.
The IEU is recommending that employers put a number of protocols in place to ensure the safest possible return to schools.
Members working in unison is the best way to keep employers on notice. Employers must consult with their employees and the union about work health and safety – it is a legal requirement.
Without such consultation, even setting the date to re-open schools proved problematic. We saw one Premier name it then change it; and a new Premier change it again. School staff and their unions were frustrated by these sudden and repeated changes, announced without prior notice in press conferences.
The IEU spoke up in the media to express its dismay at such ad hoc decisions without consulting the people who make it all happen: teachers and support staff.
IEUA NSW/ACT Branch Acting Secretary Carol Matthews spoke on Sky News, Channel 10 News, Channel 7’s Sunrise and ABC’s The Drum on the issue.
“The IEU calls on the NSW Government to engage with teachers and support staff through their representative unions about any changes to return-to-school plans,” Matthews said. “Consultation is always helpful. We urge the government to remember that schools are also workplaces, and the safety of all staff and students is our paramount concern.”
This pattern of policy on the run must not continue as we return to school. The union has written to employers in the sector, requesting they prioritise staff and student safety in the face of the highly contagious Delta strain by implementing the following measures:
School leadership is currently consulting with staff about the measures schools are putting in place to minimise the risk of a COVID outbreak. Contact your IEU rep or organiser if this isn't happening. You could also organise a school chapter meeting to discuss work health and safety issues of concern. If you feel consultation is inadequate, the chapter could pass a motion asking leadership to consult more with staff.
Adopt a cohort model
Classes should be allocated to a cohort and minimal intermingling should occur with students in other cohorts, including in learning spaces, common areas like halls and libraries, during breaks and at the school canteen and at drop offs and pickups.
Parents and carers
Parents and carers should not gather at school gates and not enter the school – except for the parents of vulnerable or special needs students.
Audit of ventilation
Schools should audit ventilation in classrooms and other areas. Additional air filtration measures should be used if required. (For more on ventilation, see here.)
There should be enhanced levels of cleaning, with daytime cleaning of high-touch areas (including in staff rooms). Hand sanitiser should be provided, and soap should always be available in toilets.
Masks are required for all students in Year 7 and above and are mandatory for staff. Primary school aged children should be encouraged to wear masks.
Non-essential visitors should not be permitted on school premises.
Any staff who are not vaccinated and are unsure whether they can attend school before 8 November, or who have been refused permission to work from home during this period, should contact the union. Staff having difficulties relating to contra-indication medical certificates should also contact the union.
The union is surveying members to find out if schools are applying adequate safety protocols. If your school has not responded yet, please go to: surveymonkey.com/r/9WLPBQW