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Safety plea as principals prepare for reopening of schools


Victoria recorded another 10 new cases of COVID-19 on Sunday, bringing the state’s total to 1487. Of the 10, one is related to the outbreak at Cedar Meats, bringing the cluster there to a total of 76 cases.

A staff member at Kyabram and District Health Services also tested positive. Colleagues who had direct contact are self-isolating, while other asymptomatic employees will be tested. Ms Mikakos said the worker had not been in close contact with any patients.

Meanwhile, customers at Fawkner McDonald’s in Melbourne’s north have been urged to get tested if they experience coronavirus symptoms following the positive test of a second employee on Saturday.

More than 150,000 people have been tested as part of a two-week blitz, with 20 returning a positive test.

The government will on Monday ramp up its efforts to find “silent” carriers of coronavirus, announcing a $20 million package which includes a specialised outbreak unit to ensure that proper testing, contact tracing and deep cleaning are carried out when a cluster is detected.

Mr Andrews gave his clearest hint yet on Friday that parents might be able to send their children back to school before the end of term two, saying he had always said “if we could bring it forward, we would”.

Ms Mikakos said on Sunday that the government had not yet made a final decision, but the crisis council of cabinet, made up of eight ministers including the Premier, would discuss the issue on Sunday night.

Teachers and advocacy groups have called for a careful plan for the return to on-site schooling, if it occurred before the end of term two on June 26.

Even with an announcement imminent, there is confusion about how the school environment – including parents interacting at drop-off – will be made COVID-safe.

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“It’s not going to be as simple as everyone turning up one day and back into it,” teacher Kelly Ryan said.

Ms Ryan said teachers needed time to revise their planned lessons, given they had planned for a whole term of remote learning.

Henry Grossek, principal of Berwick Lodge Primary School in Melbourne’s south-east, said he was considering taking safety measures into his own hands by hiring a private company to spray the school grounds and classrooms with disinfectant each day.

About 50 of Berwick Lodge’s 630 students have been attending the classroom, while 12 out of about 50 school staff have been working from school. Mr Grossek said three teachers with medical issues might not be willing to return to school due to their vulnerability to the virus.

Berwick Lodge Primary School principal Henry Grossek.

Berwick Lodge Primary School principal Henry Grossek.Credit:Paul Jeffers

“Most schools will have a pool of [teachers with medical conditions] who may not return. How would they cope emotionally with being back at work?” he said.

“We know the kids can’t stay home forever but there is going to be a big problem with social distancing and logistics.

“We still need to get our heads around risk management … because we don’t believe we’ll have the level of protection the broader community has. There is a fear about going to work.”

Prep students and older high school students may be permitted to return first, causing further complications for families with more than one child.

Jim Laussen, the principal of Overnewton Anglican Community College in Melbourne’s north-west, said he also expected some immuno-compromised families to choose to keep their children at home.

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“If you’ve got a prep class with 20 students in class and four at home … we need to work out how to provide a curriculum for children learning face to face, and also providing curriculum for children learning from home.”

The Australian Education Union urged the Education Department to address some key issues before schools re-open, including supplying more personal protective equipment, particularly to special needs schools, and only allowing large gatherings to occur if they are consistent with health guidelines.

Australian Principals Federation president Julie Podbury said a substantial period of notice for the return was essential for school staff.

“We would like at least a week’s notice prior to any changes occurring so that people can do the adequate preparation,” she said.

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She also said the return of prep-to-year-two students and VCE students should be prioritised.

“The plan for special schools needs a lot of very careful consideration as well,” she said.

The Independent Education Union said several measures were key to returning students to on-site learning, including social distancing and maintaining hygiene standards.

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It advised schools to limit large physical gatherings such as assemblies, make sure any sick staff or students were identified and then followed isolation guidelines and to ensure staff could access virus testing.

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