Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP | Greens Health spokesperson
The plan Premier Gutwein has announced for Tasmania's education system is a plan to keep schools open, not a plan to keep schools safe.
Despite parents, teachers, the AEU and the Greens consistently voicing concerns about vaccination rates, COVID case management, mask wearing, ventilation, and workforce availability, the Government’s last minute plan does not safely address any of these issues.
There is no explanation – or public health rationale – for allowing classroom positive case numbers to grow to five before action would be taken to increase the safety of students.
Why do primary school children – who will all be unvaccinated when school returns – not have to wear masks, when expert evidence shows this is a key factor in reducing school infection rates?
The Government’s plan to exempt teachers who are ‘close contacts’, but have no apparent symptoms, from isolation means they can return to the classroom and potentially infect children.
This plan denies the science of Omicron transmission, and sows seeds of confusion for parents who are looking to make sure their children are safe. Knowing COVID will be allowed to circulate in schools in these ways will be a clear red flag for many parents – particularly those whose children have additional risk factors.
It's also not clear the government's plan to create a pool of teachers to respond to the expected unavailability staff is at all feasible. Relief teachers have already reported being run off their feet before borders opened, and it remains to be seen how many retired teachers will want to take the risk of potentially exposing themselves to COVID, or who want to deal with such challenging circumstances.
Premier Gutwein has declared schools will return on 9th February no matter what. But if ventilation improvement is not complete, the back up workforce is not available, mask wearing is not mandated, and COVID case management is not fixed, he should delay the start date until they are.
Minister Courtney is putting her high-paid attention into relaxing on holiday while her staff scramble to respond to what is probably the biggest school public health crisis since the polio epidemic.
The Gutwein Government has formulated a plan they think will keep schools open, but it's already apparent this plan doesn’t reassure parents and teachers it does everything possible to keep schools safe. The Premier should call his Minister to return, take on board feedback from the AEU in the days ahead, and be prepared to delay the return to school if necessary.