Australia/January 10, 2022/By Michael Fowler/Source:https://www.theage.com.au
Remote learning may be necessary once the school term starts later this month, the national teachers’ union says, with staff and parents “deeply concerned” at the prospect of a return to classrooms amid the flood of Omicron cases.
Australian Education Union federal president Correna Haythorpe warned if large numbers of teachers and students become resigned to home isolation due to COVID-19, schools may have no choice but to shut their doors periodically.
“If you can’t provide supervision and duty of care, governments will have to consider how particular schools pivot to remote learning,” Ms Haythorpe said.
No primary school student will be fully vaccinated by the time the Victorian term starts on January 31 because appointments for children aged five to 11 open on Monday and there will be an eight-week gap between doses.
Parents have been scrambling to lock in appointments, with many vaccination providers booked out until February.
The federal government insists there is enough supply for every student to get their first jab before school returns but GPs say the Commonwealth has repeated its errors of last year in rolling out kids’ vaccines: they have been receiving just 100 doses per week, far below the demand from families, and many have refrained from booking children in because they have doubts over future supply.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison this week said national cabinet would develop a framework to ensure students are at school on day one, term one.
However, Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk announced on Friday that their term could be delayed by up two weeks if COVID-19 case numbers continue to surge to give more students time to get vaccinated.
Ms Haythorpe said teachers and school staff welcomed the move given concerns about multiple unresolved pressure points regarding safety and response to large outbreaks.
She said the union, which has not yet been consulted, wanted clarity on infrastructure such as ventilation and space for social distancing, how staffing shortages would be managed and a testing strategy.
“Many children will be unvaccinated when term begins and then for the first two months it will be, at best, first dose protection,” Ms Haythorpe said.
“Schools have the potential to be superspreader environments. If teachers feel they need to do a rapid antigen test every day then they should be able to.”
Childcare centres have already experienced the impact of soaring cases: 439 were shut across the country on Friday, including 48 in Victoria and 322 in New South Wales.
Children are eligible only for the Pfizer vaccine and will receive one-third of the adult dose. They will be administered by GPs, pharmacies and 40 state-run clinics in Victoria, where over 500,000 kids aged five to 11 are eligible.
Melbourne mother Jade Cruse spent most of this week hunting down an appointment for her daughter Isla and son Ari, aged 11 and five.
“I called every GP in our area who said they couldn’t book us in because they weren’t sure about supply. We’re going on holiday on the Mornington Peninsula next week so I called every GP and pharmacy there too,” Ms Cruse said.
“I ultimately got one at a state clinic for next week but I’ve spent hours and hours being relentless. Most appointments I saw were in February.”
Ms Cruse said she was stressed about her children returning to school, particularly as Ari, who is starting prep, has asthma.
“If cases become rampant at their school, I won’t send them back until they’re fully vaccinated,” said the 42-year-old from Montmorency, in Melbourne’s north-east.
Fellow Melbourne mother Ashleigh Bennett had booked an appointment for her seven-year-old daughter 30-minutes from their home at a GP clinic, which called her on Wednesday to cancel.
“Our local GP said they were booked out until mid-March. We found a booking at a state clinic the day before school goes back,” she said.
“I have limited confidence that many kids will actually have the chance to get vaccinated before school goes back based on our experience,” she said.
President of the Victorian Principals Association Andrew Dalgleish said remote learning had to be under consideration to provide continuity for students.
“But it’s not possible for teachers to deliver face-to-face classes and remote learning simultaneously. It really has to be one or the other at a point,” he said.
Mr Dalgleish suggested the solution for children who have to isolate may be a series of digital learning modules that they can access at home.
“Though that would be much easier for older primary school children than those younger kids.”
Victoria recorded 51,356 new infections on Saturday.
A state government spokesman backed national cabinet’s discussions about a countrywide framework.
“Our school workforce is almost entirely fully vaccinated and we’re providing an opportunity for every child aged 5 to 11 to receive at least one vaccine dose before Term 1 and their second before the end of term,” he said.
Anita Munoz, Victorian chair of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, said many practices had over 2000 children on their books who were currently fighting for 100 doses per week.
“Parents who meet a series of barriers may decide that it’s too hard, that they can’t be bothered with the process. That’s a really big problem,” she said.
Victoria’s COVID-19 commander Jeroen Weimar revealed on Friday that schools will be used as vaccination sites once term begins, however Dr Munoz said in the meantime GPs and parents were hamstrung by an unreliable supply chain.
“We’ve had so much experience in this pandemic that it’s disappointing we are still seeing the same mistakes,” said the GP, who works at a clinic in Melbourne’s CBD.
A federal health department spokesman said paediatric doses were allocated on a per capita basis based on experience with 12- to 15-year-old vaccinations and feedback from states and territories.
“The government has secured sufficient supply of the 5 to 11 year doses to offer all children a first dose by the end of January,” he said.
Michael Fowler is a City reporter with The Age. He has previously covered state politics and education. Get in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Docente - Investigadora Educativa.
Doctora en Cs. de la Educación, Magíster en Desarrollo Curricular y Licenciada en Relaciones Industriales.