Yes, we’ve seen schools close. But the evidence still shows kids are unlikely to catch or spread coronavirus


Allen Cheng, Monash University

Brunswick East Primary School and Keilor Views Primary School in Melbourne have temporarily shut down after children from both schools tested positive to COVID-19, while a confirmed case in a year 2 student led to the closure of Sydney’s Lane Cove West Public School. A childcare centre in the Melbourne suburb of Essendon has also closed for cleaning after a child tested positive.

These cases, and others in young children, follow a handful of positive cases in teenage students in Sydney and Melbourne and may be prompting some to wonder whether it’s time to rethink reopening schools after lockdown.

The short answer is: no. The research still suggests that while children can be infected with COVID-19, it is uncommon. They also don’t seem to pass the disease on as efficiently as adults do, and cases of child-to-child infection are uncommon. And when children do get infected, they don’t seem to get very sick.

The temporary closure of schools (and at least one childcare centre) is evidence the system is working as it should — cases are being identified, contact tracing and deep cleans are underway and every effort is made to limit the spread.




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What we know about children and coronavirus

We still don’t know exactly why COVID-19 is much more common in adults than children. The COVID-19 virus (SARS-CoV-2) infects people by attaching itself to a receptor called the ACE2 enzyme, and differences in this receptor in children may be one reason why children are less susceptible.

A lot of the thinking around schools and COVID-19 in Australia is based on follow up of school cases by the National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance (NCIRS). It was released in April but still reflects what is currently known about the virus and how it interacts with children and school settings.

The report found:

In NSW, from March to mid-April 2020, 18 individuals (9 students and 9 staff) from 15 schools were confirmed as COVID-19 cases; all of these individuals had an opportunity to transmit the COVID-19 virus (SARS-CoV-2) to others in their schools.

  • 735 students and 128 staff were close contacts of these initial 18 cases
  • no teacher or staff member contracted COVID-19 from any of the initial school cases
  • one child from a primary school and one child from a high school may have contracted COVID-19 from the initial cases at their schools.

Data from the Netherlands also found “children play a minor role in the spread of the novel coronavirus”.

In younger children, a rare but severe complication called PIMS-TS has been described. However, these cases have occurred in areas where there is extremely high transmission of COVID-19 in the community.

A bigger concern around schools is how adults congregate. Schools now have some version of physical distancing in the staff room and on school grounds to limit the risk of transmission between adults. Parents are asked not to enter school grounds or congregate in close quarters at the school gate, although the fact that this is outdoors and not a long period of contact also helps reduce the risk.

What about COVID-19 and high school students?

There have been several reports of cases in high schools both in Australia and abroad.

Older children in high school start to have similar risk to adults, although the risk of complications is still substantially lower than in the elderly. Importantly, kids in this age group are more able to physically distance and adhere to personal hygiene measures than primary school-aged kids.

At least one instance of a high school outbreak in Auckland was related to an event outside the classroom at which many adults were present. So it was less about transmission in the classroom and more related to a particular event.




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The system is working

It’s important that schools remain open. But precautions are still required: teaching children to maintain personal hygiene, enhanced cleaning, and making sure adults (teachers and parents) are appropriately distanced from each other.

The latest school cases are not unexpected, and don’t mean that school closures across the board are required. They show the system is working as it should — we are spotting cases early and intervening quickly to limit the spread.

When we do find COVID-19 cases in children, we don’t usually find cases of child-to-child transmission. But of course, we still need to go through the process of managing each case as it arises.

If there are ongoing cases in the community, it is likely that cases will continue to occur in students or teachers, and schools will need to have contingency plans for this.




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Parents need to make sure their children are well before sending them to school, and be prepared to get them tested and to keep them at home if they show any sign of illness. And of course, hammer home the message about hand washing.

Hand washing and physical distancing remain the very best things we can do to reduce the risk of COVID-19 spreading.The Conversation

Allen Cheng, Professor in Infectious Diseases Epidemiology, Monash University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Sending children back to school during coronavirus has human rights implications



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Amy Maguire, University of Newcastle and Donna McNamara, University of Newcastle

Debates about a return to classroom learning in Australia are fraught, and parents have mixed feelings as to what may be best for their children.

This confusion is likely influenced by a sense of mixed messages from different approaches around the country.

For example, term 2 began this week in New South Wales. From week 3, children in government schools have been allocated a day per week when they should learn on site. In Western Australia, parents have been asked to decide if their children will return to the classroom, learn online from home or learn from home with hard copy materials. The situation in both states is to be reviewed around week 3.

In contrast, all Victorian students who can learn from home must do so. The ACT is also proceeding with online learning for all children who can be supervised at home.

Human rights relevant to schooling

Australia lacks a comprehensive human rights framework, although human rights laws have been passed in the ACT, Victoria and Queensland. Little commentary to date has considered the return to school in a human rights context.

Human rights are interconnected values. Many are relevant to this issue and the pandemic more broadly.

Under international law, all people have the right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health. The right to health extends beyond access to health care. Importantly in the context of the coronavirus pandemic, it includes a right to the prevention, treatment and control of disease.

All people, and particularly children, also have a right to education. This right is described as essential for people to participate effectively in a free society. Countries are obliged to protect the right by ensuring, at a minimum, free and compulsory primary education and a system of schools to provide equitable access to education at each level.

International law also confirms the right of all people not only to work, but to enjoy just and favourable conditions of work. This includes a right to safe and healthy working conditions.

Human rights issues arising from a return to the classroom

How can we balance human rights implications of a return to classroom learning, when rights may come into tension with each other?

Most human rights can be constrained, although not to the point where their essence is denied. Limitations on rights must be necessary in response to a pressing public or social need. They must also pursue a legitimate aim and be proportionate to that aim.

When we consider rights in tension at this time, it is clear a right to health must be the primary focus. A weakening of protective measures may heighten the risk of a second wave of the virus.

A return to classroom learning should be made in consideration of the rights of both staff and children to enjoy the highest attainable standard of health. Australian parents and school staff are being encouraged to view schools as safe environments.

However, the advice for those who are at risk continues to be to stay at home. While some jurisdictions are moving to require in-person attendance, little has been said about how at-risk staff and students are to be protected at school or supported to continue in isolation.

Aspects of a return to school also pose mental health risks. Some students who require set daily routines may become anxious when required to attend only one day per week. Others, especially high school students in their final year, should perhaps be prioritised to return as a cohort in order to complete their education.

For teachers, there are significant workload implications in managing both in-class and online cohorts of students. The right of teachers to enjoy good mental health may also be compromised by a sense of risk in the return to classroom teaching. The potential for stress-related illnesses is obvious among parents, many of whom have found learning from home taxing on their mental health.

There is a widespread desire to support the right of students to education. Schools in Australia have mostly remained open throughout the peak of the crisis for children of essential workers and children who are safer at school than at home. This approach was a measured means of balancing rights to health and education and could be maintained for a longer period across the country.

It has been argued here that the “staggered” return to school in some states ought to prioritise the needs of children at certain key stages of learning.

We add that the most vulnerable children should also be prioritised. For example, greater equity in access to education at this time may call for special arrangements to include students with disabilities, chronic illnesses or mental health conditions. Students who lack at-home access to online learning could also be prioritised in a return to the classroom.

The physical environment in schools is a further complicating factor, particularly in terms of teachers’ rights to safe conditions of work. The prime minister is adamant schools are exempt from social-distancing requirements. Yet those states returning students to the classroom are implicitly undermining that message by setting maximum numbers and requiring staggered break times and other measures.

Many teachers feel confused and stressed about how they can do their work safely. This is unsurprising, given some states and other countries are taking much more cautious approaches to the health and safety of school staff.

No magic right answer

The balancing process between human rights values at this time is highly complex and beyond what we can hope to resolve in this article. And human rights analyses cannot deliver us a simple “right” answer as to how the return to classroom learning should be managed.

What human rights give us is another frame through which to consider these fundamental challenges. There are obvious economic and educational imperatives to prompt a return to classroom learning. Our national debate could be richer and more inclusive if it also included human rights claims.The Conversation

Amy Maguire, Associate Professor in Human Rights and International Law, University of Newcastle and Donna McNamara, Lecturer in Law, University of Newcastle

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

If COVID-19 is a national emergency, can the federal government take control of schools?


Matt Harvey, Victoria University

The federal government this week offered independent schools across the country an advance of A$3 billion if they committed to having at least half their students back in the classroom by June 1.

In the case of some states, particularly Victoria, this instruction is in direct contrast to that of the premiers. Victorian schools, following advice from the state’s Chief Health Officer, are committed to online learning for term two with children only attending schools if they have to, such as if their parents are essential workers.

Victoria’s education minister James Merlino has said the federal government is “forcing” independent schools to undermine the state’s strategy. In regard to schools, he said:

Let me be very clear, particularly to the federal government who do not run any schools, we will only transition back to face-to-face teaching for all students when that is the advice of the Victorian Chief Health Officer.

The federal government has consistently maintained the position it is safe for schools to remain open.

The federal government funds independent schools, and the state is in charge of public schools. But beyond these arrangements, is there anything in the Australian Constitution that might give the Commonwealth control over schools in a national emergency situation like the case of a pandemic?

What the Constitution allows the Commonwealth

The Australian Constitution was written in the 1890s and came into effect in 1901. It predates the first world war and the influenza pandemic that followed it.

There is no general emergency power, but it does give the Commonwealth power over “the naval and military defence of the Commonwealth” (s51(vi)). This power was used extensively in both world wars to control many aspects of life from curfews to bread prices.

The Commonwealth also has control of quarantine under s51(ix), but there is no mention of health or education – or indeed the economy – though there are some commercial powers such as over foreign, trading and financial corporations (s51(xx)).

There is a power under s51(xxiiiA) to provide benefits to students and others and for health and medical purposes.

How the Commonwealth can control the states

The Commonwealth and states have done a pretty good job of cooperating so far. The National Cabinet of Commonwealth ministers and state premiers (a concept not found in the Constitution) has made joint decisions on the public health response.

But the messaging on schools has been inconsistent with the federal government claiming it’s safe, while some premiers have taken their own route and transitioned to online learning.




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Legally and constitutionally the Commonwealth can’t force schools to open. The fact it has attempted to induce independent schools to reopen by bringing forward a payment highlights that the Commonwealth’s involvement in education, as in so many areas, is through the power of the purse.

The Commonwealth has an almost unlimited power of taxation under s51(ii), together with its power under s96 to make grants to states “on such terms and conditions as the Parliament thinks fit”.

This reached an extreme in the Howard era when the Commonwealth made a payment to state schools conditional on them having at least an hour of physical education per week, and a flagpole.

To be allowed to operate, all schools must be registered with the respective school registration authority in each state or territory, which means states have jurisdiction over school operations. So, if Victoria or any other state decides to compel schools in the state to remain closed (or reopen), it has the power to do so.

What about in an emergency situation?

The Commonwealth’s power to act in an emergency was tested in the global financial crisis of 2008-10 when the Rudd government sent out a “Tax Bonus” payment to all taxpayers. This was challenged by constitutional law lecturer Bryan Pape as going beyond Commonwealth power.

The High Court, in Pape v Commissioner of Taxation, agreed the tax bonus was not authorised by the taxation power, but accepted that there was a global emergency and the payment was in response to it.

Chief Justice French wrote:

The executive power of the Commonwealth conferred by s61 of the Constitution extends to the power to expend public moneys for the purpose of avoiding or mitigating the large scale adverse effects of the circumstances affecting the national economy […]

Could the Commonwealth claim we are in a national emergency and kids must go back to school? That would be harder to argue than that they should stay home to avoid the virus. It would also be hard for the Commonwealth to argue that an economic imperative trumps a state’s judgement about what is safe for the community.




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Sending children back to school during coronavirus has human rights implications


In the case of Rudd’s tax bonus, the Commonwealth was trying to send every taxpayer a cheque. That is a rather different matter to forcing taxpayers to send their children to school, especially against the wishes of the state.

Let’s hope the Commonwealth and states can reach agreement on this and together get the risk of transmission down to a level we can all accept.The Conversation

Matt Harvey, Lecturer in Law, Victoria University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

5 reasons it’s safe for kids to go back to school



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Asha Bowen, Telethon Kids Institute; Christopher Blyth, University of Western Australia, and Kirsty Short, The University of Queensland

In mid March, cases of COVID-19 – the disease caused by SARS-CoV-2 – dramatically increased in Australia and the government responded with an effective public health strategy. People who could, shifted to working from home, social distancing measures were applied and Australians experienced life in isolation.

Somewhere in the mix, kids stopped attending school. While the federal government has consistently maintained it is safe for schools to remain open, other states like Victoria and NSW told parents to keep their children at home if they could.

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We are now in a different phase of the pandemic in Australia. With cases dropping, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has announced students would be making a staggered approach back to classrooms from the third week of the second term – initially for one day a week, then for more time on campus as the term progresses. Schools in Western Australia reopen on Wednesday April, 29.

On Friday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the same social distancing rules as in the community did not apply in the classroom. He said:

The 1.5m in classrooms and the four square metre rule is not a requirement of the expert medical advice for students in classrooms.

Closure of schools has meant kids not seeing their friends and a disruption to their usual education routine.

For some children fears of violence, hunger and lack of safety, that are usually modified through school attendance, have become more real. Inequality and mental health needs have likely become more apparent for some children.




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The federal and state governments who say it is safe for children to return to school are working off the latest evidence. Here are five reasons we know it’s safe.

1. Kids get infected with coronavirus at much lower rates than adults

This is the case in Australia and throughout the world. There are no clear explanations for this yet, but it is a consistent finding across the pandemic.

Although SARS-CoV-2 can cause COVID-19 in school-aged children, it rarely does and children with the disease have mild symptoms.

Fewer than 150 children below 15 years have been infected with SARS-COV-2 in Australia since the pandemic began. This is compared to the 6,695 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Australia at 25 April, 2020.

2. Children rarely get severely ill from COVID-19

Data from around the world and Australia have confirmed children very rarely require hospitalisation, and generally only experience mild symptoms, when infected with SARS-CoV-2.

Deaths in children due to COVID-19 are incredibly rare. Very few children globally have been confirmed to have died from the virus (around 20 by our calculations), in comparison to more than 200,000 overall deaths.

Many parents have worried their kids’ friends could be infected with the virus without showing symptoms. But this doesn’t seem to be the case. A study in Iceland showed children without symptoms were not detected to have COVID-19. No child below ten years of age without symptoms was found to be infected with SARS-CoV-2 in this study.

3. Children don’t spread COVID-19 disease like adults

During the yearly flu season, children spread the flu to friends and grandparents alike. But COVID-19 behaves differently. In household clusters in China, Singapore, South Korea, Japan and Iran, fewer than 10% of children were the primary spreader – meaning the virus goes from adult to adult much more effectively than from children to other children, or even children to adults. The same has been found in new studies in The Netherlands.

We still don’t know why this is. It takes us all by surprise as kids with snotty noses are always blamed (and probably responsible) for driving the annual round of winter coughs and colds.

4. School children in Australia with COVID-19 haven’t spread it to others

Schools where cases have been diagnosed in Australia have not seen any evidence of secondary spread.

This means even with kids sitting right next to each other in the classroom, they are very unlikely to infect their friends.

5. There is no evidence closing schools will control transmission

Modelling shows only a small incremental public health benefit to closing schools in the case of usual respiratory viruses such as influenza. But COVID-19 is quite different to flu, so any of the benefits seen for influenza are likely to be even less in the case of COVID-19.

During the 2003 SARS outbreak, school transmission was not found to be a significant contributor to the outbreak and school closures did not influence the control of transmission.

Back to school doesn’t mean back to normal

Schools reopening does not mean a return to education as it was before. Other measures may also be put in place, like staggering lunch breaks, limiting face to face contact between staff and parents and regular hand-washing breaks.

Kids with a cold or other symptoms must stay home from school. And older teachers or those with underlying health conditions that put them at greater risk of complications if infected with SARS-CoV-2 will have altered responsibilities.

It is important parents and the public differentiate between schools reopening from all the other important strategies used to reduce transmission still in place. These include social distancing, travel restrictions, case isolation and quarantine, and banning of large gatherings.




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But returning to schools is safe. Our leaders are advised on this issue by some of the best infectious diseases, public health and microbiology physicians in Australia, who have repeatedly said that schools can safely remain open.

The Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) has provided sensible advice for schools to reopen. It makes sense to get our kids back to doing what they do best.


Correction: the article originally stated children in NSW would start returning to schools in term one.The Conversation

Asha Bowen, Head, Skin Health, Telethon Kids Institute; Christopher Blyth, Paediatrician, Infectious Diseases Physician and Clinical Microbiologist, University of Western Australia, and Kirsty Short, Senior Lecturer, The University of Queensland

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Cyber threats at home: how to keep kids safe while they’re learning online



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Paul Haskell-Dowland, Edith Cowan University and Ismini Vasileiou, De Montfort University

Before COVID-19, children would spend a lot of the day at school. There they would be taught about internet safety and be protected when going online by systems that filter or restrict access to online content.

Schools provide protective environments to restrict access to content such as pornography and gambling. They also protect children from various threats such as viruses and unmoderated social media.

This is usually done using filters and blacklists (lists of websites or other resources that aren’t allowed) applied to school devices or through the school internet connection.

But with many children learning from home, parents may not be aware of the need for the same safeguards.

Many parents are also working from home, which may limit the time to explore and set up a secure online environment for their children.

So, what threats are children exposed to and what can parents do to keep them safe?

What threats might children face?

With an increased use of web-based tools, downloading new applications and a dependence on email, children could be exposed to a new batch of malware threats in the absence of school-based controls.

This can include viruses and ransomware – for example, CovidLock (an application offering coronavirus related information) that targets the Android operating system and changes the PIN code for the lock-screen. If infected, the user can lose complete access to their device.

Children working at home are not usually protected by the filters provided by their school.

Seemingly innocent teaching activities like the use of YouTube can expose children to unexpected risks given the breadth of inappropriate adult content available.

Most videos end with links to a number of related resources, the selection of which is not controlled by the school. Even using YouTube Kids, a subset of curated YouTube content filtered for appropriateness, has some risks. There have been reports of content featuring violence, suicidal themes and sexual references.




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Many schools are using video conferencing tools to maintain social interaction with students. There have been reports of cases of class-hijacking, including Zoom-bombing where uninvited guests enter the video-conference session.

The FBI Boston field office has documented inappropriate comments and imagery introduced into an online class. A similar case in Connecticut resulted in a teenager being arrested after further Zoom-bombing incidents.




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Because video conferencing is becoming normalised, malicious actors (including paedophiles) may seek to exploit this level of familiarity. They can persuade children to engage in actions that can escalate to inappropriate sexual behaviours.

The eSafety Office has reported a significant increase in a range of incidents of online harm since early March.

In a particularly sickening example, eSafety Office investigators said:

In one forum, paedophiles noted that isolation measures have increased opportunities to contact children remotely and engage in their “passion” for sexual abuse via platforms such as YouTube, Instagram and random webchat services.

Some families may be using older or borrowed devices if there aren’t enough for their children to use. These devices may not offer the same level of protection against common internet threats (such as viruses) as they may no longer be supported by the vendor (such as Microsoft or Apple) and be missing vital updates.

They may also be unable to run the latest protective software (such as antivirus) due to incompatibilities or simply being under-powered.

Error message when attempting to install a new application on an older device.
Author provided

What can parents do to protect children?

It’s worth speaking with the school to determine what safeguards may still function while away from the school site.

Some solutions operate at device-level rather than based on their location, so it is possible the standard protections will still be applicable at home.

Some devices support filters and controls natively. For example, many Apple devices offer ScreenTime controls to limit access to apps and websites and apply time limits to device use (recent Android devices might have the Digital Wellbeing feature with similar capabilities).

Traditional mechanisms like firewalls and anti-virus tools are still essential on laptops and desktop systems. It is important these are not just installed and forgotten. Just like the operating systems, they need to be regularly updated.

There is a wealth of advice available to support children using technology at home.

The Australian eSafety Commissioner’s website, for instance, provides access to:

But if you’re feeling overwhelmed by these materials, some key messages include:

  • ensuring (where appropriate) the device is regularly updated. This can include updating the operating system such as Windows, Android or Mac

  • using appropriate antivirus software (and ensuring it is also kept up to date)

  • applying parental controls to limit screen time, specific app use (blocking or limiting use), or specific website blocks (such as blocking access to YouTube)

  • on some devices, parental controls can limit use of the camera and microphone to prevent external communication

  • applying age restrictions to media content and websites (the Communications Alliance has a list of accredited family friendly filters)

  • monitoring your child’s use of apps or web browsing activities

  • when installing apps for children, checking online and talking to other parents about them

  • configuring web browsers to use “safe search”

  • ensuring children use devices in sight of parents

  • talking to your children about online behaviours.




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While technology can play a part, ensuring children work in an environment where there is (at least periodic) oversight by parents is still an important factor.The Conversation

Paul Haskell-Dowland, Associate Dean (Computing and Security), Edith Cowan University and Ismini Vasileiou, Associate Professor in Information Systems, De Montfort University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

NSW ‘staggered’ return to school: some students may need in-class time more than others


Andrew J. Martin, UNSW

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian yesterday announced school students would return to face-to-face classrooms in a staggered fashion from May 11, the third week of term. She said students would initially return for one day a week, and their time at school would be increased as the term progressed.

She said by term three, she hoped all students would be back at school full time.

But schools were given flexibility on how this return may look. NSW education minister Sarah Mitchell said

We want them [schools] to make sure they are having about a quarter of students [from each grade] on campus each day […] But how they break that group up will be a matter for them.

The NSW government said students would complete the same coursework whether they were at home or on campus during the staggered return.

This announcement is a quick turnaround from only a few weeks ago, when the NSW government said parents must keep their children at home if they could. In the latest press conference, the government said 95% of students were working from home during the final weeks of term one.

There are a few possible reasons for NSW to have made this decision. It allows children to re-connect with teachers and peers; it is one way to have fewer students on campus at any one time; it helps parents observe physical distancing during drop-off and pick-up times; and it allows a systematic escalation to two days, then three days and so on.

A staggered return to school starts moving the wheels of school campuses and infrastructure out of hibernation, at the same time helping some parents and carers return to work.

But as an educational psychologist, I am also considering this difficult decision from the perspective of the students who may be most at need of returning to class. These include those in year 12 and students in kindergarten.

Specific year groups should take precedence

It’s worth schools considering staggering the return to school from a “whole-cohort perspective” (such as all of year 12). This tries to take into account what specific cohorts of students need, developmentally and educationally.

Schools will differ in how they implement these ideas and will need to balance educational with physical distancing concerns – and their capacity to manage groups of students in the context of their physical and staffing environment.

Year 12s

The cohort that has the least amount of time to acquire time-sensitive learning would be all of year 12. There are university-bound year 12 students who would benefit from being well on top of the syllabus knowledge that is assumed in their target university course.




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There are also students bound for TAFE and apprenticeships who need to get practical experience, key competencies or work placement hours.

So if the health advice allows for the staggered approach the NSW government is proposing, it is worth considering that all year 12s return to school five days per week.

Kindergarten

Moving into “big school” is a massive developmental transition which has been disrupted for the 2020 kindergarten cohort.

These children need a solid early foundation of core social, emotional, literacy and numeracy competencies.




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Years six and seven

Year six is the final year of primary school. It is where social, emotional and academic competencies are being honed and rounded ready for high school. And for year sevens, the transition to high school is a major psychological and academic adjustment, laying important foundations for their high school journey.

Year 11

Some universities are considering last year’s year 11 results for application for 2021 course entry. While the hope is everything will be back to normal come next year, there is the brutal reality that some nations have experienced second waves of COVID-19.

There is no vaccine yet, and we are only very gingerly taking baby-steps in easing restrictions.

This means we may need to take actions this year to insure year 11s against the possibility of school and assessment disruptions when they are in year 12 next year.

Disadvantaged students

We need to do our best to avoid widening any existing learning gaps during the remote learning period. Schools could encourage academically at-risk students – such as those with learning disorders, or executive function disorders such as ADHD – to start attending targeted in-class learning. This could allow for some bridging instruction so these students can make a strong start when the rest of their year group returns to in-class instruction.

Managing the numbers

An approach where initially only some year levels go to school while others remain learning remotely may make it easier for teachers.

It is not straightforward to develop both an in-class and a remote learning instructional program to accommodate a one day return, then two days and the like. Teachers are concerned at the extra workload this approach may mean for them.

There may also be significant between-school and between-teacher differences in how this is done – potentially leading to an uneven playing field for a given year group.

Teachers know how to teach a whole year group in class for five days of the week – and students know very well how to learn in this mode.

As we continue to navigate uncharted waters, there will be no perfect approach. Whatever the decision and however it is implemented, we must continue to be guided by our health experts, and we must hasten slowly.The Conversation

Andrew J. Martin, Scientia Professor and Professor of Educational Psychology, UNSW

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

‘I have never felt so frightened’: Australia’s coronavirus schools messaging must address teacher concerns


Claire Hooker, University of Sydney

Parents have heard confusing messages from federal and state governments around sending children to school. As students in Victoria started term two on Wednesday, the state government told parents to keep children at home if they can.

In some cases there have been reports of children being told they have to study at home even though parents want to send them to school as they find it hard to work otherwise.

But in a Facebook video this week Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the government wanted schools to open up for all students in three to four weeks.

And in a later press conference he maintained expert advice has consistently been that schools are a safe space for children.

[…] teachers are more at risk in the staff room than they are in the classroom when it comes to how the health advice plays out and the impact of this virus on children as opposed to teachers.

That means that we need to have proper arrangements in place for teachers and other staff in schools […] to protect their work environment, but […] that doesn’t lead to the same rules applying for students because they have a different level of risk.

While Morrison may be communicating the correct information, his message keeps being rejected by many Australian parents and teachers. This is because of mishandled communication that conveyed confusing and contradictory information, leaving teachers feeling unconsulted, scared and outraged.

Schools are safe, or are they?

There is good evidence for keeping schools open, including a recent rapid review of several studies on the topic, that indicated closing schools contributes very little to reducing the spread of the disease.




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Other countries are shutting schools – why does the Australian government say it’s safe to keep them open?


And yet school closures have been among the most contentious and emotive issues in Australia’s COVID-19 strategies. This has resulted from significant failures in risk communication from the government, including many inconsistencies in messages about transmission risks.

For example, when the Prime Minister made a statement banning indoor gatherings greater than 100 people (including staff), he did not even mention schools except to say later that they would remain open.

This is despite the fact schools involve gatherings of greater than 100 people. And the design of many make implementing recommended social distancing measures impossible.




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No, Australia is not putting teachers in the coronavirus firing line. Their risk is very low


Morrison’s statements also expressed concern about kids infecting grandparents, but not about kids infecting older teachers, some of whom are also grandparents. This caused outrage among many teachers.

President of the NSW Teacher’s Federation Angelo Gavrielatos who reportedly sought a response to such contradictions tweeted:

The response from the Commonwealth Deputy Chief Medical Officer was “Sorry. I can’t reconcile the contradictions”.

These inconsistencies left parents and teachers – especially those who face significant health issues themselves or in their immediate family – feeling both terrified and unvalued. Twitter account Stories From Teachers, contain heartfelt expressions of teachers’ fear. One said

I have never felt so frightened, disregarded and psychologically mangled in my whole entire life.

Any government plans to return students to school will require careful communication to be acceptable to many teachers and parents.

How governments should respond

People show decreased cognitive processing in high concern situations. This means we should expect many teachers will experience heightened perceptions of risk in their workplace. The best response is to tolerate any early over-reactions.

Effective communication requires emotional intelligence as well as compassion and empathy (practising non-judgment and avoiding sympathy).

Handbooks on risk communication, such as the WHO Guideline, emphasise communication is a two-way street. This means government and school leaders need to focus as much on what teachers and parents can or need to hear, as on what information they want to convey.

The basis for effective pandemic communication is trust. Trust is fundamental to achieving a coherent public response in an uncertain and unfolding situation. Without it, messages may be ignored or outright rejected.




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A matter of trust: coronavirus shows again why we value expertise when it comes to our health


To rebuild trust, communication will need to begin with listening to the concerns of parents and teachers. All discussions about schools, such as the release of any new modelling, need to explicitly acknowledge the implications for these groups.

Showing respect for teachers and parents requires authorities to trust them by sharing information early, and being transparent and open about deliberation and decision making. Being explicit and honest about uncertainty is particularly important.

If the government doesn’t know the answer to questions such as “how many school-based transmissions have occurred in other countries?”, that needs to be stated clearly.

It’s getting better but we need action

In the prime minister’s video message, he thanked teachers, saying what they do each day “matters amazingly”. Showing value for teachers was a good start.

But his words will prove insincere if teachers don’t see them backed up with actions in the actual environments where they work.

Actions can communicate more strongly than words. Teachers will only feel their concerns have been heard if they see actions that mitigate and monitor risk.

Actions that can be considered include:

  • extensive additional testing for teachers and students

  • partial return to school to reduce crowding

  • giving staff extra sick leave without requiring medical certificates so they can remain at home if symptomatic

  • making it easier for teachers to work from home if they have demonstrated health needs.

Perceptions of risk decrease as people gain an increased sense of control. So school leadership can support staff to take actions that give them a greater sense of safety. These include staggering bell times or spending five minutes of lesson time with students cleaning desks and chairs.

Actions that show value for staff might include additional professional development days where teachers decide on their individual best use of the time.

Communicating value for teachers will be the key to successful communication around schools in the weeks to come.The Conversation

Claire Hooker, Senior Lecturer and Coordinator, Health and Medical Humanities, University of Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Other countries are shutting schools – why does the Australian government say it’s safe to keep them open?


Peter Collignon, Australian National University

Victoria started school holidays a week early while parents can choose whether to send their children to school in other states. All states and territories are working towards reopening schools in term two.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said the medical expert advice is that it is safe to send your children to school.

This seems inconsistent with other strict quarantine measures the country is adopting to reduce the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by coronavirus, termed SARS-CoV-2.

People are told not to leave the house if possible. All non-essential travel in and out of the country (and between some states) has been banned. Many businesses have closed and services, including open house inspections, have been banned. Even funerals are limited to no more than ten people.

Why then are our schools still open? And why are so many other countries closing their schools?

In short, strict quarantine measures have been shown to be more effective in reducing the spread of COVID-19 than closing schools. And many countries where schools have closed had community transmission for too long before putting in measures to prevent it.

But let’s look at it in more detail.

Children appear to spread the disease less

There is a lot we still don’t know about COVID-19. But we do know children appear to very rarely have serious disease and complications, compared to those in the older age groups like their parents and especially grandparents.

We have a lot of data from a number of countries (China, South Korea, Japan, Italy) where this pandemic has infected large numbers of people. The data show children have rarely (and in many countries never) died from the infection.




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Worried about your child getting coronavirus? Here’s what you need to know


Even those under the age of 30 have rarely died from the disease. Children also appear to get infected at a much lower rate than those who are older – although we can only confirm that once we have rolled out large-scale testing.

Children can get infected. And both here and in other countries, children with infections have attended schools. But there have been no documented outbreaks in the schools infected children attended and the schools were shut and cleaned.

Australia has low community transmission

In Australia (as of March 25) we still have very low community transmission of this virus.

Some argue we haven’t detected community transmission because we are not testing enough. Yes, there will be some cases that might be missed – but not many. Australia has done more than 135,000 tests with only 1% of those tested showing positive results.

Australia has one of the highest per capita testing rates in the world and one of the lowest rates of positive diagnoses. And more importantly, current testing includes people who come to hospital with pneumonia, especially if they need to go to the intensive care unit.

If there was already widespread community spread we would be picking up these cases.

The cases we are seeing are overwhelmingly still in returned travellers and in their contacts. Hopefully by quarantining cases and high-risk people (close contacts and returned travellers) for infection, we will be able to limit any ongoing spread in the community.




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COVID-19: what closing schools and childcare centres would mean for parents and casual staff


What we are seeing with our rapid increase in numbers is not an uncontrolled epidemic in Australia. It is more a reflection of what has been the uncontrolled community spread of the infection in places like the US and Italy. This is reflected in returned travellers who were in recent months part of those communities and who were or are now quarantined.

Australia’s situation is different to other countries

Most of Europe and the United States introduced widespread school closures. This is because they didn’t control community spread until very late, and the virus had already been circulating widely without them realising due to less or delayed testing . This is not the case for Australia where there is still little community spread.

There have not been extended national school closures in some countries where there has been good control with a reversal of the curve and fewer and fewer new cases, such as South Korea and Singapore.

These countries and others have had localised school closures in many areas. But this usually occurred where frequent community spread was detected. This may also be what is needed in some areas in Australia.

Data released by the Imperial College, London found:

in the UK and US context, suppression will minimally require a combination of social distancing of the entire population (and especially for those over 70 years of age), home isolation of cases and household quarantine of their family members.

Most models have been done so far on the assumption the coronavirus spreads in a similar way to influenza (the normal flu). But this doesn’t appear the case. COVID-19 appears to cause many less infections in children than occurs with influenza. While we don’t know the exact infection rates in children, symptomatic infections appear to be much lower than what would be expected with influenza .

The Imperial College model assumes household contact rates for student families will increase by 50% during the time schools close. Contacts in the community increase by 25% during closure.

These increased community interactions, such as with grandparents and the community in general, may be why there are worrying findings from their model during the first three months with school closures.

Their model shows that if school closures themselves were our only intervention, that would only have a modest impact on decreasing the demand for hospital beds (14%) and be the least effective of all their modelled interventions.

But what about teachers?

Children do get infected but at a much lower rate than other age groups. Some teachers might be at risk, such as those over 60 years old with heart conditions. Those teachers should be be at home anyway and practising even more social distancing than the general population, along with all those over the age of 70 years old.

Higher risk groups should be decreasing their current contacts and trying to use the 2 meter distancing as well as not letting anyone unwell, such as those with a cold symptoms (including their children and grandchildren) visit.




Read more:
No, Australia is not putting teachers in the coronavirus firing line. Their risk is very low


Closing schools will not likely decrease the spread of the virus by much, but the spread in our community will be associated with lots of potentially long term and detrimental outcomes on children’s education. It will also impact the ability of society to function and deliver essential and other important services. It may even increase deaths from COVID-19 based on some modelling.The Conversation

Peter Collignon, Professor of Infectious Diseases and Microbiology, Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

My child is staying home from school because of coronavirus. Is that illegal?



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John O’Brien, Queensland University of Technology

In a recent press conference on the COVID-19 situation, Prime Minister Scott Morrison told Australia schools would remain open for the foreseeable future. He said:

The health advice here, supported by all the Premiers, all the Chief Ministers and my Government is that schools should remain open […] I am asking all other parents around the country […] There’s only one reason your kids shouldn’t be going to school and that is if they are unwell.

But many parents are keeping their children home. Some are doing this in an effort to “flatten the curve”, and others may be worried for the health of their child or elderly relatives.

Attendance in schools across Australia has fallen, by as much as 50% in some. Considering parents are going against the directive of governments, are they breaking the law by taking their kids out of school to study at home?

On the face of it, the answer is yes. But it’s not black and white, and the likelihood of criminal proceedings is traditionally very low. Fining parents has always been considered a last resort, and that would seem unlikely to change in a time like now.

But the law is the law, and is there for a specific social purpose – it is never advisable to willingly and persistently ignore it.

What does the law say?

School education is governed by state and territory laws that mandate compulsory education. Parents are legally obliged to ensure their child attends school (or other educational options such as homeschooling) every school day, unless the parent has a reasonable excuse.

The maximum fine that can be issued to a parent varies considerably across jurisdictions. If a parent was to face court (normally this would be for persistent non-attendance), the fine in Queensland can be up to A$800, whereas in New South Wales, it could be $2,750.




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Schools are open during the coronavirus outbreak but should I voluntarily keep my kids home anyway, if I can? We asked 5 experts


But again, prosecuting parents will not usually be the first response, and these figures are the maximum a court may impose. Many states either suggest or require warnings, notices, meetings or conferences before a case can be recommended for prosecution.

Is COVID-19 a ‘reasonable excuse’?

Most jurisdictions provide for a reasonable excuse to be given, and then often provide a few examples of what this might cover. If a child is actually sick, this would often be listed as an acceptable reason for their absence.

Similarly, six of the jurisdictions (ACT, NSW, NT, Qld, Tas, WA) specifically mention a defence where the child is required to stay home due to a public health direction. The current direction of governments is for healthy children to go to school. But this defence could cover a situation where a family member is confirmed to have COVID-19, or the child has recently returned from overseas, and therefore needs to self-quarantine for 14 days.

South Australia has a new Act which could allow a parent to keep a healthy child at home to prevent the risk of the child catching a disease; however this law has not yet begun to operate.

Without there being any specific and obvious defence for parents, it would come down to whether removing a child from school due to the threat of COVID-19 is considered a “reasonable” excuse.

Who decides?

In a worst-case scenario, it would be a court that would ultimately decide this question. But there are a range of decision-makers involved in school non-attendance cases who precede a court, including school principals.

Parents could apply for an exemption to their obligations in advance of their child’s absence. Decision-makers for exemptions vary between jurisdictions, and sometimes even within a jurisdiction depending on whether the child is at a state or non-state school.

Powers might be vested in the relevant minister (NSW, SA, Tas, Vic, WA), a departmental CEO/director-general or their delegate (ACT, NT, Qld State Schools), or a school principal (Qld non-state schools).

A factor that might make it more reasonable for the child to be exempted could be if there are other household members who fit into high-risk categories (for example, someone who is immuno-compromised). Also relevant might be what provision has been made for the child once the parent removes them – will the child be doing schoolwork, or playing video-games unsupervised all day?




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Kids at home because of coronavirus? Here are 4 ways to keep them happy (without resorting to Netflix)


The prime minister said anything we do we would need to do for six months. This situation isn’t likely to resolve itself anytime soon, and it’s uncertain whether government advice will change with regard to schools.

For now, technically, keeping healthy children at home can be considered illegal. But the likelihood of criminal proceedings is low, and a government decision to prosecute parents would, I imagine, be publicly unpalatable.The Conversation

John O’Brien, Associate Lecturer, School of Law, Queensland University of Technology

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Schools are open during the coronavirus outbreak but should I voluntarily keep my kids home anyway, if I can? We asked 5 experts



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Sunanda Creagh, The Conversation

Editor’s note: This article is based on the coronavirus situation in Australia as of March 19. The situation may change over time.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said government schools across Australia will remain open for the foreseeable future as the COVID-19 pandemic spreads. He added that:

as a father, I’m happy for my kids to go to school. There’s only one reason your kids shouldn’t be going to school and that is if they are unwell.

However, many parents are already voluntarily keeping their children home in an effort to “flatten the curve” – or are considering doing so.

We asked five experts to answer the question: schools are staying open but should I voluntarily keep my kids home anyway, if I can?

Four of the five experts said no

Sign up to The ConversationThe Conversation

Sunanda Creagh, Head of Digital Storytelling, The Conversation

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.