National approach to resumption of schooling
While state governments differ in the preferred approach for a return to schools, the Australian Government Department of Health has issued guidelines for teachers, students and parents to reduce potential risk of COVID-19 transmission.
The guidelines have been issued by the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC), the key decision-making team for health emergencies. Made up of Chief Health Officers from each Australian state and territory, the committee is chaired by the Australian CMO and is tasked with — among other things — mitigating emerging health threats related to infectious diseases.
Throughout the current COVID-19 pandemic, the federal government has maintained its position regarding keeping schools open, most recently seeking to ensure the reopening of independent schools by offering financial incentive to do so. That move has been criticised by some and called out as a means to undermine each state’s chosen coping strategy, contributing to the flow of conflicting information emanating from government at a state and national level — a practice that has become the hallmark of this particular health crisis.
Geographic inconsistencies aside, the guidelines offer practical solutions to ensure risk is minimised once students return to school. These measures include:
- adapting activities that lead to mixing between classes and years, including reduced use of common areas and reduced after-school and inter-school activities;
- where possible, adding flexibility to the work day by staggering start and finish times, recesses, lunch breaks and other key transition times, when mixing may occur between classes and year levels;
- where possible, avoiding close-proximity queueing and encouraging increased space between students, for example, by placing markings on the floor;
- cancelling school excursions, assemblies, sporting activities and other large gatherings;
- where possible, conducting lessons outdoors or in environments with enhanced ventilation;
- where possible, arranging classroom furniture to leave as much space as possible between students;
- maintaining smaller classes
- ceasing public access to playgrounds and high-touch play equipment;
- teachers maintaining 1.5 m physical distance from other adults in staff rooms;
- providing a mix of home- and campus-based education;
- student work being submitted electronically, where feasible;
- student work being handed to a teacher for feedback rather than feedback being provided immediately by the teacher in close proximity to the student;
- encouraging non-contact greetings.
The guidelines provide a wealth of information across a range of additional topics including promotion of psychological and physical wellbeing of students, teachers and support staff, environmental cleaning, management of suspected cases, first aid, hygiene and the importance of clear communication.
A range of downloadable resources and links to external organisations that offer further services is also provided.
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