Children might play a bigger role in COVID transmission than first thought. Schools must prepare



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Zoë Hyde, University of Western Australia

Over the weekend, the World Health Organisation made an announcement you might have missed.

It recommended children aged 12 years and older should wear masks, and that masks should be considered for those aged 6-11 years. The German Society for Virology went further, recommending masks be worn by all children attending school.

This seems at odds with what we assumed about kids and COVID-19 at the start of the pandemic. Indeed, one positive in this pandemic so far has been that children who contract the virus typically experience mild illness. Most children don’t require hospitalisation and very few die from the disease. However, some children can develop a severe inflammatory syndrome similar to Kawasaki disease, although this is thankfully rare.

This generally mild picture has contributed to cases in children being overlooked. But emerging evidence suggests children might play a bigger role in transmission than originally thought. They may be equally as infectious as adults based on the amount of viral genetic material found in swabs, and we have seen large school clusters emerge in Australia and around the world.

How likely are children to be infected?

Working out how susceptible children are has been difficult. Pre-emptive school closures occurred in many countries, removing opportunities for the virus to circulate in younger age groups. Children have also missed out on testing because they typically have mild symptoms. In Australia, testing criteria were initially very restrictive. People had to have a fever or a cough to be tested, which children don’t always have. This hindered our ability to detect cases in children, and created a perception children weren’t commonly infected.

One way to address this issue is through antibody testing, which can detect evidence of past infection. A study of over 60,000 people in Spain found 3.4% of children and teenagers had antibodies to the virus, compared with 4.4% to 6.0% of adults. But Spain’s schools were also closed, which likely reduced children’s exposure.

Another method is to look at what happens to people living in the same household as a known case. The results of these studies are mixed. Some have suggested a lower risk for children, while others have suggested children and adults are at equal risk.

Children might have some protection compared to adults, because they have less of the enzyme which the virus uses to enter the body. So, given the same short exposure, a child might be less likely to be infected than an adult. But prolonged contact probably makes any such advantage moot.

The way in which children and adults interact in the household might explain the differences seen in some studies. This is supported by a new study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Children and partners of a known case were more likely to be infected than other people living in the same house. This suggests the amount of close, prolonged contact may ultimately be the deciding factor.

How often do children transmit the virus?

Several studies show children and adults have similar amounts of viral RNA in their nose and throat. This suggests children and adults are equally infectious, although it’s possible children transmit the virus slightly less often than adults in practice. Because children are physically smaller and generally have more mild symptoms, they might release less of the virus.

In Italy, researchers looked at what happened to people who’d been in contact with infected children, and found the contacts of children were more likely to be infected than the contacts of adults with the virus.

Teenagers are of course closer to adults, and it’s possible younger children might be less likely to transmit the virus than older children. However, reports of outbreaks in childcare centres and primary schools suggest there’s still some risk.

What have we seen in schools?

Large clusters have been reported in schools around the world, most notably in Israel. There, an outbreak in a high school affected at least 153 students, 25 staff members, and 87 others. Interestingly, that particular outbreak coincided with an extreme heatwave where students were granted an exemption from having to wear face masks, and air conditioning was used continuously.

At first glance, the Australian experience seems to suggest a small role for children in transmission. A study of COVID-19 in educational settings in New South Wales in the first half of the year found limited evidence of transmission, although a large outbreak was noted to have occurred in a childcare centre.

This might seem reassuring, but it’s important to remember the majority of cases in Australia were acquired overseas at the time of the study, and there was limited community transmission. Also, schools switched to distance learning during the study, after which school attendance dropped to 5%. This suggests school safety is dependent on the level of community transmission.

Additionally, we shouldn’t be reassured by examples where children have not transmitted the virus to others. Approximately 80% of secondary COVID-19 cases are generated by only 10% of people. There are also many examples where adults haven’t transmitted the virus.

As community transmission has grown in Victoria, so has the significance of school clusters. The Al-Taqwa College outbreak remains one of Australia’s largest clusters. Importantly, the outbreak there has been linked to other clusters in Melbourne, including a major outbreak in the city’s public housing towers.

Close schools when community transmission is high

This evidence means we need to take a precautionary approach. When community transmission is low, face-to-face teaching is probably low-risk. But schools should switch to distance learning during periods of sustained community transmission. If we fail to address the risk of school outbreaks, they can spread into the wider community.

While most children won’t become severely ill if they contract the virus, the same cannot be said for their adult family members or their teachers. In the US, 40% of teachers have risk factors for severe COVID-19, as do 28.6 million adults living with school-aged children.

Children walk to school with masks
In the US, 40% of teachers have risk factors for severe COVID-19, as do 28.6 million adults living with school-aged children.
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Recent recommendations on mask-wearing by older and younger children mirror risk-reduction guidelines for schools developed by the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health. These guidelines stress the importance of face masks, improving ventilation, and the regular disinfection of shared surfaces.

The changing landscape

As the virus has spread more widely, the demographic profile of cases has changed. The virus is no longer confined to adult travellers and their contacts, and children are now commonly infected. In Germany, the proportion of children in the number of new infections is now consistent with their share of the total population.

While children are thankfully much less likely to experience severe illness than adults, we must consider who children have contact with and how they can contribute to community transmission. Unless we do, we won’t succeed in controlling the pandemic.The Conversation

Zoë Hyde, Senior Research Officer, University of Western Australia

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

Victoria’s Year 12 students are learning remotely. But they won’t necessarily fall behind



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Sarah Prestridge, Griffith University and Donna Pendergast, Griffith University

In early July, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews announced government school students in prep to Year 10 — in Metropolitan Melbourne and the Mitchell Shire —would learn from home for term three. Students in Years 11 and 12, as well as those in Year 10 attending VCE or VCAL classes, and students with special needs, would learn face to face.

The exemption for students doing VCE subjects to go class was made to ensure the least amount of disruption to the final years of schooling.

From today, however, after the announcement of harsher, Stage 4 restrictions for metropolitan Melbourne and Stage 3 restrictions for the rest of Victoria, students in Years 11 and 12 will learn remotely with every other student in the state.




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So, will remote learning at the end of schooling mean Victorian students will fall behind the rest of the country?

Setting up Year 12s for further learning

Year 12 marks the end of school and the shift to work and further education for most students.

The Year 12 journey is sprinkled with milestones and rites of passage: the school formal, leadership opportunities, gaining independence with a new driver’s license and for many, turning 18 and being regarded as an adult.

In classrooms, learning is highly regulated by the teacher. Whereas in vocational education and training, and university, learning is rapidly moving to a more online, independent, mode. Even before the pandemic, post-school education required students to be more self-directed learners than they were at school.

This year’s Year 12 students won’t experience many common milestones and rites of passage. But many will have gained significant experiences of learning online, and independently — beyond what they ordinarily would have — which will set them up for similar learning beyond school.




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The chance to develop online learning capabilities while being supported by their school teachers will give Year 12s learning remotely a real advantage.

Year 12s like learning independently

We conducted a survey of students who experienced remote schooling during March and April this year at an independent school in Queensland. Overall 1,032 students completed the survey, across prep to Year 12.

Just over 41% of students, overall, said they found learning at home stressful. But this was generally not the case for students in Year 12. Year 12 students were keen for the flexibility to learn at their own pace, and being free to determine the order of study each week, rather than follow a timetable set by the school.

Younger students find remote learning more stressful than do Year 12s.
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Year 12 students said they preferred to concentrate on one subject a day and to work intensely.

Generally Year 12 students said they disliked live video sessions and found them disruptive to their study flow. While 75% of Grade 7 students valued form class or home room live sessions, only 16% of Grade 12 students did. They preferred to spend their time focusing on given subject materials.

Is online learning inferior to face to face?

Studies have suggested online learning is likely to be less effective than classroom education over the longer-term. But there is also evidence to suggest the impact may be negligible in the short term.

Other studies suggest there is no significant difference in learning outcomes between students in distance education (when students live too far from the school to attend in person) and face-to-face learning.

But there are significant variations in outcomes within each approach. This means a student’s ability to learn online, the design of the online learning environment and even the amount of time needed for students to get familiar with learning online can affect their outcomes.




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Students have been conditioned for over 12 years to learn in classrooms from a teacher. This can make it difficult for them to become familiar with new ways of learning.

A major issue associated with online learning is a student’s ability to regulate themselves. This means being able to stay on task especially when a problem arises. Being unfamiliar with new ways of accessing and interpreting online environments and subject content, as well as working with peers online in communication spaces, presents new challenges for students.

However, the problem may again have to do with age. In our survey, mentioned above, 75% Year 12 students believed they were able to work through a problem productively online. This was higher than the other high-school year levels.

Tips for Year 12 students

There are many advantages to learning online. Students can work at their own pace, revise and review teacher made videos for examples, and engage with extensive notes and study guides to help with assessment and exams.

Students can also access their teachers in more varied ways and at different times of day. In other words, moving online for Year 12 students can provide a world of resources and access to teachers they have not experienced before.




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To make the most of their Year 12 experience, students should keep these simple tips in mind:

  • organise your learning week. Set up your own timetable of tasks to complete. Include breaks and time to relax

  • be an active learner. Make notes while listening to teacher made videos and written materials

  • contact a friend if you have a problem, and work through the issue together

  • use the communication tools available to tell your teachers and friends what you are thinking about

  • participate in live sessions and forums as much as you can.


Correction: this article previously had an incorrect statement about ATAR calculation. This has now been removed.The Conversation

Sarah Prestridge, Senior Lecturer, Griffith University and Donna Pendergast, Dean, School of Educational and Professional Studies, Griffith University

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

Will school temperature checks curb the spread of coronavirus?



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Fiona Russell, University of Melbourne and Kathleen Ryan, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute

This week, most students in Melbourne and Mitchell Shire returned to remote learning for term 3.

Students whose parents can’t work from home are allowed to receive remote learning from school, as was the case during the first lockdown.

But this time, students in years 11 and 12, students in year 10 undertaking VCE or the applied learning equivalent, and specialist school students, are attending school for face-to-face learning.

This move recognises older students are more likely to be able to social distance than younger students, ensures senior students are supported during their VCE, and acknowledges the particular difficulties of remote learning for students with special needs.

In announcing this new model, the Victorian government also revealed daily temperature checks would be introduced for all students attending school face-to-face in term 3.




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The details

The Victorian government pledged to supply schools in Melbourne, Mitchell Shire and surrounding areas with more than 14,000 non-contact infrared thermometers. These are the type of thermometer positioned from a distance, generally towards a person’s forehead, to take their temperature.

In the case a student records a temperature of 37.5℃ or above, the school will contact the student’s parent or guardian to take the child home, and encourage them get a COVID-19 test.

While some Victorian students are back at school, most are learning from home again.
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The temperature checks are designed to detect fever as an indicator of possible SARS-CoV-2 infection. But there are a couple of things we need to keep in mind when considering how useful temperature checks will be.

First, these types of thermometers won’t always reliably detect fever. And second, many children with COVID-19 won’t have a fever.

Sensitivity and specificity

A few key features are important when screening for disease. In the case of non-contact infrared thermometers, the “disease” we’re screening for is fever.

First, a tool should be able to correctly identify those with the disease (sensitivity). Second, a tool should correctly identify those without the disease (specificity). Third, a tool should have high probability that a person with a positive result does have the disease (positive predictive value, or PPV).

Testing of non-contact infrared thermometers has reported wide variation on each of these measures. One review found sensitivity ranged from 4%-89.6% and specificity from 75.4%-99.6%. Where one in 100 people had a fever, the PPV was between 3.55%-65.4%.




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Non-contact infrared thermometers measure skin (peripheral) temperature without physical contact, which offers a convenient option for temperature checking large numbers of children.

But their readings can be affected by factors such as outdoor temperature, where on the body you aim the thermometer, and distance from the subject.

We also need to remember fever reducing medications, such as paracetamol, can lower a child’s temperature.

Combined, these factors indicate non-contact infrared thermometers may not be very reliable in detecting a fever (regardless of whether or not the fever is related to COVID-19).

Do children with COVID-19 have fever?

A review of studies found fever was the most common symptom in children and young people under 21 with COVID-19, recorded in 47% of cases. Other symptoms include cough (37%) and diarrhoea (4%).

Two reviews explored asymptomatic infection in children, reporting 14% and 19% of children had no symptoms at all.

This means fever screening may miss more than half of infected children in schools, as they could either have no symptoms, have symptoms that don’t include fever, or have fever not detected by the non-contact infrared thermometers.

Schools in other countries are also checking students’ temperatures.
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Do children transmit COVID-19 in schools?

Initial reports suggested children don’t transmit SARS-CoV-2 as much as adults, however evidence in this space is still evolving.

A NSW government report found no student-to-teacher transmission and very low student-to-student transmission.

Conversely, one of Victoria’s largest outbreaks to date occurred at a P-12 school; staff, students, and close contacts have tested positive. But it’s not yet clear how much transmission can be attributed to school activities as opposed to household and community transmission.




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A recent study from South Korea found within the home, ten to 19-year-old children transmit the virus as much as adults, whereas children aged under ten transmit less than adults.

While this paper focused on household transmission, a recent study from Israel reported on an outbreak in a secondary school. It found overcrowded classrooms, lack of mask wearing and air conditioning use were likely to be contributing factors.

Schools around the world

Among countries that have now returned to school, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Vietnam have implemented fever screening.

France, Belgium, Germany and Israel have differing requirements for use of face masks among students and teachers.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends parents check their child’s temperature before or upon arrival at school.




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The use of non-contact infrared thermometers to identify children who could have COVID-19 may not be reliable.

But at the very least, this tool provides a visible important reminder to parents, staff and students of the risk of COVID-19, and for children to remain at home if they’re unwell.The Conversation

Fiona Russell, Principal research fellow, University of Melbourne and Kathleen Ryan, Research Fellow, Asia-Pacific Health, Infection and Immunity Theme, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute

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

School is important, and so is staying safe from coronavirus. Here are some tips for returning seniors



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Gerard Fitzgerald, Queensland University of Technology

Victorian senior students returned to school this week, as did those in specialist schools. This follows substantial community transmission of COVID-19, and stage three restrictions, in metropolitan Melbourne and the Mitchell Shire.

Although senior and specialist school students in the restricted areas are going back to class, government school students in prep to Year 10 (except those doing VCE subjects) will learn remotely for term three.




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Whether schools close or remain open has been one of the more contentious aspects of this pandemic.

The Australian government previously signalled a lack of sustained and widespread community transmission meant it was more important for children to attend school than stay at home. But the situation has now changed, in Victoria at least.

That state recorded 270 new cases of COVID-19 since yesterday, with 147 linked to an outbreak at Al-Taqwa College. Almost all the new cases come from community transmission.

For returning seniors and teachers, it’s important to remember no single measure in isolation prevents disease transmission. It is a matter of reducing the likelihood and enhancing the capacity of the system to deal with events that occur.

School closures have consequences

Most of our evidence on the effectiveness of school closures comes from influenza research. Closing schools has been shown to reduce the speed and extent of influenza spread. This measure won’t be effective in isolation, though, and must be complemented by social distancing and enhanced personal hygiene.

But SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) is different to influenza. Children are less likely to become infected and less likely to become seriously ill.

A recently reported German study suggests fewer than 1% of children and teachers had contracted the disease at school. Other analysis has not shown significant benefit from closing schools, even in communities with widespread community transmission.




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That doesn’t mean transmission cannot occur among teachers and students, as we have seen with several outbreaks in Australian schools.

It is just that schools are not the disease incubators they would be with influenza or rhinovirus (which causes the common cold). This means transmission is not as likely in schools as it appears to be among adults.

The Victorian government has indicated Year 11 and 12 students – and those in Year 10 studying for the VCE – should return to school, and special schools should remain open, even in areas under restrictions. But universities, TAFE and adult education must continue online.

Wearing a mask isn’t harmful, and it does offer some protection.
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Even though senior students may have a similar transmission as adults, the logic is that educational and social disadvantage faced by senior students outweighs the risk of disease transmission.

And older students should also be able to understand the importance of health protection strategies and cooperate more readily than younger children can.

They are at a critical stage of their education, where lost access to education for a prolonged period may have longer life implications.

The unique social and personal support offered by special schools may also outweigh the COVID-19 risks.

Meanwhile, adults in higher education institutions usually have alternatives to allow them to continue their education.

So, what should schools do?

Victorian schools need to adhere to enhanced public health protections — this is understandably challenging for principals and teachers.

Whatever the schools can do will help reduce risk — it is not necessary to do everything, if not possible.




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Managing fewer classes by only having senior students and children of essential workers on campus may help schools maximise screening, social distancing and enhanced personal hygiene measures.

Teachers and students who may be at greater risk if they contract this disease, including older teachers and those with chronic illness, should isolate themselves if possible.

The Victorian government has provided guidelines for schools but these contain quite a lot of varied information which could be confusing for staff and parents.

There are five key principles for risk mitigation in schools

1. Maintain a high level of awareness of COVID-19 transmission

This should be done through standard and consistent communication to staff, parents and students.

2. Stop infected people from attending school

Parents, students and staff should be required to stay away from the school if they are infected or have been exposed to someone with the disease.

Schools should screen people on arrival, including, if possible, temperature screening either on arrival or at first class, dependent on the circumstances of the school. Anyone with symptoms or a temperature should be removed immediately and quarantined.

The Victorian government has promised more than 14,000 non-contact thermometers for government, independent and Catholic schools in metropolitan Melbourne and Mitchell Shire, and to schools in neighbouring areas that need them.

3. Implement a practical level of social distancing

Mass gatherings, assemblies and functions should be avoided, arrival and departure times staggered. Break times should also be staggered and students spread out during them.

5. Maintain hygiene

Students and teachers should wash or sanitise their hands on arrival, before and after breaks and before departure.

Everyone should consider using face masks where social distancing is not possible, such as on public transport. Masks are not harmful, but they do not necessarily protect from COVID-19, so they can’t be completely relied on. They are just one measure of reducing risk.

High traffic areas must be subject to enhanced cleaning and environmental hygiene practices.

No single measure is critical and there are no guarantees, but together, reasonable approaches will reduce risk and offer increased protection.The Conversation

Gerard Fitzgerald, Emeritus Professor, School of Public Health, Queensland University of Technology

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

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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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.