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Sunday, April 11, 2021

Education union cautious about reopening schools

As the ACT Government works towards a return to face-to-face learning for public school students, the Australian Education Union (AEU) ACT remain cautious about reopening schools en masse.

AEU ACT Branch secretary Glenn Fowler said they remain concerned that “our members are physically and psychologically vulnerable in worksites where we are not yet convinced it is possible to maintain appropriate social distancing and the highest hygiene standards”.

As it stands, the AEU and the ACT Education Directorate agreed on 25 March that, until further notice, any AEU member can elect to work from home and will not be compelled to attend a worksite.

“We would need to reach agreement to divert from this shared position. The AEU’s position will be determined democratically through our Branch Executive,” Mr Fowler said.

Term 2 resumed on Tuesday 28 April for public schools with remote learning, however nine schools are available as safe and supervised sites for students and families who are unable to stay at home. The Education Directorate expects about 1,900 students each day to attend a school site.

Other specialist settings will continue to operate as per usual, including the Muliyan Off-Campus Flexible Learning Program, Murrumbidgee Education and Training Centre, the Cottage and the Hospital School.

In a letter to members, the AEU ACT said the safe and supervised sites model will form a useful blueprint for what the reopening of schools might look like, however noted “if we can’t get it right for 13 schools, we won’t get it right for 88”.

The AEU ACT will watch to see how the NSW Government fares when it seeks to reopen 2,200 public schools from 11 May, as “it will take only one case of transmission in a school to throw that entire approach into serious question”.

Meanwhile, all systemic Catholic Schools in the ACT will continue to be open for students who need to attend school throughout Term 2. 

Director of Catholic Education Canberra and Goulburn, Ross Fox, said until the general community situation changes, a remote learning program will be offered for all students, both those who attend school and those learning at home. In addition, all staff who are classified as vulnerable for whatever reason are able to work from home or take leave according to their own circumstances. Other staff are able to request to work from home. This will be accommodated, where possible, dependent on the needs of the school. 

Catholic Education will continue to closely monitor the available government and health advice in relation to schools. On a weekly basis, they will review the context and advise parents accordingly.

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