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COVID-19 School Closures

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Tuesday, 24 March 2020

Tags: COVID-19, Schools

COVID-19 School Closures: Cassy O'Connor, 24 March, 2020



I acknowledge that I know you are doing your very best. We are being flooded with emails and phone calls from stressed-out parents and teachers. I received a text from a Sorell High School student this morning. Yesterday you stressed the importance of keeping a tight rein on children who have been kept home from school, and you just did so again, yet your Government is still claiming that schools, where a large number of children are kept in close proximity for a large part of the day, are not considered significant transmission problems.

This, as we know, is a very different approach from what has been taken by Victoria, ACT, New South Wales and New Zealand. How can it be that sending a child to school with hundreds of other children is not a risk but letting a child out to play with one or two other children is? Do you admit there is significant inconsistency here? It is sending a very mixed message to the wider community.

Yesterday tens of thousands of Tasmanians lost their jobs. As you said this morning, let us make these sacrifices mean something. Many Tasmanians are making huge sacrifices to protect us all, closing businesses, staying home, and not visiting elderly relatives. Can you see how keeping schools open will undermine the sacrifice that so many Tasmanians are making? How long do Tasmanian parents, teachers and students have to wait for certainty and at what point will you provide that and close schools to all but the children of health and emergency services workers?



Madam Speaker, I thank the Leader of the Greens, Ms O'Connor, for that question. As I said in my previous answer, if any parent wants to remove their child from school they can do so as of tomorrow, and I expect that many will, but in terms of closing our schools, we have one of the most disadvantaged populations in the country. We need to ensure that those children who do not have a safe home environment and who are not being provided with clear instruction and support have somewhere to go as well as those children of our essential service workers. Our schools need to provide that support.

I can understand some of the concerns of educators and I thank them for the work they are doing. As we work our way through this, our schools are going to need to remain open. Even if parents do not want their children to be there - as I have said very clearly, they can take them out - we need to ensure that we can provide support for essential service workers. We need to ensure that we can provide support for children who do not have the necessary support elsewhere.

For many of our children, the safest place for them, in respect of the virus and other matters, is in our schools. We need to ensure, if a decision is made to close or alter the operating model, that it is based on the best health advice that we can receive. I have made it perfectly clear that I and the Cabinet will take that advice and we will act on it. We will be having a conversation tonight about these matters and others and we will make decisions informed by that advice.