Dr WOODRUFF question to MINISTER for EDUCATION, CHILDREN and YOUTH, Mr JAENSCH
Yesterday you were out trumpeting the next stage of your Back to School Plan. Last week you reported 1703 school children were COVID-19 positive. Some 1300 of these are in primary school and are wholly unprotected. They have been exposed to the risk of potentially serious and disabling long-COVID-19. Nearly 70 teachers were also off work, COVID-19 positive or a close contact.
Despite this, your dystopian plan claims it has been a successful start to the term. Not a single measure in your forward planning is different to the hopelessly inadequate protective measures you have used so far to keep our children safe. There is no plan to expand ventilation upgrades and no plan for outdoor learning areas in winter. How are you going to manage these fresh air spaces when it is freezing cold and driving rain?
Will you commit to releasing daily figures of the number of COVID-19 cases in primary and high schools, and to releasing a real plan for term 2 that provides for safe air spaces in classrooms and protection for children?
Mr Speaker, I thank the member for Franklin for the many questions embedded in her preamble speech. I can update the House on the latest figures I have for Tasmanian Government schools as at Friday 4 March. Of our 60 000 students in Tasmanian Government schools, less than 3 per cent -1747 - are known as COVID-19 cases. Pleasingly, well over two thirds of those students are actively engaged in learning from home through our virtual learning centre and supported by our staff. Of our staff, less than 1 per cent of teachers in our schools are home, away from the class room, with COVID-19.
As we have said before, we have over 1700 on our reserve list - people ready to step up into those roles as they are needed - to ensure we can continue providing education face-to-face in safe places in our schools. As the Premier has outlined we continue to work very closely, and have done since day one, with public health and alongside public health. When we come to make announcements, like the one I did yesterday at Bowen Road Primary School, I have Public Health experts alongside me and we invite the media to ask them questions and they provide answers directly to Tasmanians through the media. We are not hiding them. We are not changing their words. We are not keeping them, as I think you said, in a cage. They are directly informing our decisions and our tactical steps and, in the case of my announcement yesterday, our COVID-19 safe schools operational plan.
As we know, sadly, COVID-19 is moving through our community. There is transmission of COVID-19 in our community. Nobody likes that, we did not ask for it; and our job is to deal with it.
Our children live in the community, and they come to school. Our job is to make our schools as safe as we possibly can. Our Public Health officials consistently advise that schools, and the way we have them set up, are the safest places for our kids to be. In a community where there is community transmission of COVID-19, we are providing a place for those children where we guarantee that all the adults they come in contact with are vaccinated; where there are Rapid Antigen Tests available for every school, that are replenished as they are used; there is an unlimited supply of testing, to ensure they can respond to the onset of symptoms and they can determine if they have a positive case, they can take action to keep their kids at home, and out of the school. Everybody is relying on everybody doing the right thing, and it is working.
There are facemask requirements for all adults and all students over 12 years of age in our schools. There are strict hygiene practices and protocols for COVID-19-safe behaviour in our schools, including the provision of additional hand soaps, sanitizers and other products that assist to keep them safe.
There are frequent cleaning regimes in place. I particularly want to mention the cleaning staff in our schools across the state, who have stepped up to take on additional cleaning duties to ensure our schools are meeting the requirements set down by public health for keeping them safe spaces. Ventilation - natural airflow is being maximized across our schools. Air purifiers - 4500 of them - have been deployed to our schools. The vast majority - I believe the figure from yesterday well over 93% - of windows in our perimeter classrooms are fully operative. Each school site has been provided with a carbon dioxide monitor, supporting guidelines and advice from occupational physicians on how to use them so that we can continue to measure the adequacy of airflow and ventilation in our learning spaces.
Mr SPEAKER - If you could wind-up please, minister.
Mr JAENSCH - We are actively investing in more outdoor learning spaces for our children; we are ensuring physical distancing, particularly for our adults; and we are managing our sites entries and exits. We are minimising mixing of groups of students in our public schools, for example, by not resuming whole school assemblies, but dealing with the sharing of information and the celebration of achievements of our students through other means. We are doing everything we can, and we are following all guidance that we are given by Public Health, to make our schools the safest places they can be.
In finishing, I thank all the teachers, the principals, the staff of our schools, the parents and the students in our schools, for following the guidelines and the rules we have set down to keep our schools as safe as they can possibly be. It is a great relief to see the curve of increases in cases in our schools flattening - as we expected it to - at week five, and we look forward to that plateauing continuing. As Public Health has previously indicated, they expect those case numbers in our schools to be tapering off from this high point.