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COVID-19 Concerns in Educational Facilities

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Wednesday, 18 March 2020

Tags: COVID-19, Schools, Internet Access

COVID-19 Concerns in Educational Facilities: Cassy O'Connor, 18 March, 2020


Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Madam Speaker, I rise to make a contribution on the adjournment in relation to the pandemic and one aspect of the response and to update the House that a short time ago I read in the Sydney Morning Herald that Sydney has reported 50 new positive cases in the past 24 hours. That brings, I think, the national total of confirmed positive cases to more than 550, but as the ABC's Dr Norman Swan said on The Drum the other night, there is almost certainly 20 times more virus in the community than we are getting results from, which makes the concerns of parents and teachers about the closure of schools even more pointed.

I will read an email into Hansard which I am sure a number of members have received. It starts:

I am a senior secondary teacher at a government college, although I would prefer if my name was kept private.

And I shall.

I adore my job and students I teach. I am also the daughter of a mother who is at very high risk of complications from COVID-19. For various reasons I currently live with my parents. I am appalled by the blatant disregard for our health and safety shown by both the state and federal governments. The justification for schools for keeping schools open seems to be based on the assertion that young people are at low risk for COVID-19. This may be true, however there are over 100 staff at my college. We have families and loved ones.

Our students have loved ones who are at risk for COVID-19. Young people may not show symptoms of COVID-19 but they can still infect other people who are susceptible. I have a student whose father is going through chemotherapy. She is torn between her academic future and her father's wellbeing. At least she has a choice. We will do our best to continue to support her learning.

I don't have a choice. I can continue to do my job and jeopardise my mother's life, or I can take the limited amount of leave available to me and then what? Return to a dangerous environment or resign? I am also deeply worried about my students and what this means for them.

Please understand, I do not want schools to close, however at this time I feel it is necessary. Social distancing is impossible. Our classrooms are small. We cannot keep the requisite distance between people. Some of our bathrooms do not have soap or paper towels. More and more parents are removing their students from our school. While I cannot fault them for this, the truth is that we are still expected to provide content for them, and we want to, but our workload has doubled. We are still teaching our face-to-face classes and now are expected to prepare and deliver online content as well.

My colleagues and I strongly believe that students should not be coming to colleges. Staff can either work on site or at home to create online content. It is not ideal but it is safer and more equitable than what is currently occurring. Those small percentage of students who do not have access to reliable internet can still attend. The small number will be far easier to practise social distancing with.

Teachers are problem solvers and we are used to doing a lot with a little. Please help us to manage this situation the best we can. The escalation of this crisis is inevitable. The shortage of test kits means that there are no doubt undiagnosed cases throughout the state and the country and yet all levels of government are refusing to take preventative action. This is being treated as an economic inconvenience rather than a health crisis. I have been watching what is occurring in Italy and the United States with horror. Please advocate for the teachers. We are being forgotten.

Yours faithfully

A teacher at a Tasmanian college.

Dr Woodruff, my esteemed epidemiologist colleague and friend, will make a contribution on the arrivals issue shortly, but what I will say is for people who are voracious consumers of news information, as I am, I am getting increasingly concerned about many of the approaches or the lack of approach that is being taken, particularly the federal level but I am concerned about some of the responses at the state level, and I am very concerned about schools and vulnerable people, small business people and sole traders. I know no-one has a monopoly on compassion in here, but for members who point to the lack of evidence that school closures is effective and then point to Singapore, which has not closed its schools, what I read is that in Singapore, children who come to class have their temperature checked two to three times a day, and as soon as a child is detected to have fever they are sent home. So, I do not think it is reasonable to compare us to Singapore.

In Europe, as we know, a number of countries moved very quickly to shut their schools to slow community transmission of this virus. I can see that day coming here, and I think there will be teachers and parents and students who will be relieved when it does.