SUBJECTS: Coronavirus and schools
Melissa Doyle: All schools across Australia will be officially back for term two within days, but while the Federal Government maintains that children should be heading back to classrooms, the states remain divided on how best to proceed. We are joined now by Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan. Thank you very much, Minister, for your time tonight. Each state has adopted a different approach to schooling in the wake of the coronavirus crisis. Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews is refusing to open schools. Can you understand why there’s been so much confusion for parents?
Dan Tehan: Look, I can understand why there has been confusion for parents because, ultimately, state and territories have the jurisdictional say on what schools do. So, what the Federal Government has tried to do is get a nationally consistent approach. And, we’ve done that by backing in the medical expert panel and their advice. And, their advice has been, all through this pandemic that it’s been safe for schools to be open, for children to be at school, and for teachers to be teaching at school, with the right protocols put in place. And, our hope is – now that we do have all schools back for second term – is that by the end of May, we would have all schools across the nation open, teachers teaching in the classroom, and all year levels attending school.
Doyle: What precautions can parents expect as students return?
Tehan: What they can expect is that, in particular, that teachers will be practicing social distancing from other teachers and from parents. They’ll, we’ll see their children being asked to practice good hygiene, washing their hands regularly, sanitiser if it’s in the classroom, using that. And, just making sure that a very common sense approach is taken, especially when it comes to the welfare of our teachers.
Doyle: Can I ask about different age groups? Because, I know that you’ve told us that COVID-19 poses a less severe risk to children, and that’s why schools are safe. But, what about the difference between a classroom of eight-year-olds and then 17, 18-year-olds in a classroom?
Tehan: Nothing is indicating that there needs to be a precaution for Year 11 or 12 which is different to eight-year-olds or primary school students. So, the advice remains consistent.
Doyle: What will be the federal response, then, if you see a spike in numbers? Say, we have an outbreak. Is there a plan in place to deal with it quickly?
Tehan: Absolutely. The medical experts that have been advising the Federal Government and all the state and territory governments through the National Cabinet have put in place procedures and protocols if there was an outbreak in a school. Or, if there was an outbreak in a community, then they might act also with regards to the school in that community. So, all those procedures have been put in place, so we’re in a position to be able to move quickly if something did occur.
Doyle: Minister Dan Tehan, thank you for your time this evening.
Tehan: Pleasure Melissa.