Why it makes sense to keep schools open

 

SCHOOLS could be closed for months if they were shut down now, Queensland's chief medical officer has warned, as parents demanded answers on why authorities hadn't closed schools before a coronavirus outbreak took hold.

In a letter sent to principals by the Education Department, Jeanette Young explained the rationale behind schools remaining open in a bid to help them allay staff and parental concerns.

 

"For pre-emptive school closures to be effective, prolonged closure is required and it would be unclear when they could be reopened," she said.

"If there were still a large pool of susceptible students when schools are reopened, there would be likely to be re-emergence of transmission in the community."

Dr Young said school closures may still be considered late in the outbreak in anticipation of a peak in infection rates, for a shorter period of time.

"At this stage, the spread of COVID-19 in the community is at quite low levels.

"It may be many months before the level of community infection is again as low as it is at the moment.

"A decision to close campus operations now on the current level of community transmission may therefore see schools closed for many months."

She said schools should implement a range of strategies to reduce transmission including promoting personal hygiene, including handwashing, reducing face contact, and cough etiquette.

She also suggested schools implement physical distancing, reducing mass gatherings (for example school assemblies), and reducing the mixing of students (for example reduced use of common areas, staggered lunchtimes, and reduced after school activities and inter-school activities).

 

Queensland Chief Health Officer Dr Jeannette Young
Queensland Chief Health Officer Dr Jeannette Young

 

Queensland Teachers' Union president Kevin Bates said teachers were reporting concerns from parents yesterday about why schools haven't been closed.

"Some parents have been taking out their frustrations on school principals, and we really urge people to keep perspective," he said.

"Parents have frustrations about why schools aren't closed, parents have the right to ask those questions, but the reason is because the government has said there it's not necessary at this stage."

The Parenthood Board member Owen Wareham said parents were "feeling really anxious" about whether to send kids to school or to keep them at home.

"For a lot of people it's also a concern about what you do to entertain kids for a long period of time in isolation, how can you make sure kids aren't panicked or spooked by this as well.

"There's a lot of conflicting information, such as how is it possible to keep 1.5 metre distance while filing off to school where people sit next to each other in assemblies and so on.

"A lot of the major instructions don't seem to make much sense."

In a letter yesterday to school principals from Education Department Director-General Tony Cook, said social distancing and mass gatherings should not yet prevent essential school operations.

 

 

It comes as schools gear up for continued learning if schools were to close.

Brisbane State High School executive principal Wade Haynes said: "As the COVID-19 situation evolves, our school continues to prepare for continuity of learning and teaching.

"We have some planning in place and are working to ensure the background requirements are in place."

Parent-teacher interviews have been cancelled at West End State School, events and external guests and protection has been canned, while classes are rostered through the library at lunchtime to reduce and limit crowding.

"I have also had to send a directive to staff about encouraging "social distancing" and they are trying their best to implement this, though it is a big challenge particularly with our younger children," principal Kim McNamara said.

Kelvin Grove State College executive principal Llew Paulger told parents they would stop holding sub-school assemblies in all sub-schools for the rest of the term to minimise the size of the gatherings.

 

 

She said parents would be contacted to collect their children if any students appear unwell with flu-like symptoms.

"Last week, the college has placed an order for Hand Sanitiser pump packs for every classroom for student and staff use."

It comes as universities have ceased all lectures with more than 500 students and moved programs online after the University of Queensland ceased classes for one week.

Southern Cross University is transitioning classes online where possible, staff are being encouraged to work from home, meetings conducted virtually, and mass events cancelled.

QUT vice-chancellor Professor Margaret Sheil said the mass gathering ban only applied to 10 subjects, and the university has advised students of alternate arrangements, with online and flexible learning options readily offered by the institution.

"We have gone further and cancelled all lectures with greater than 300 attendees," a Griffith University spokesperson said.

"Small tutorials and workshops will be progressively moved online over the coming weeks."