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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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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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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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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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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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.




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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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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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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

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Sunanda Creagh, Head of Digital Storytelling, The Conversation

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

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



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Gerard Fitzgerald, Queensland University of Technology

Prime Minister Scott Morrison today confirmed schools across Australia will be staying open for the foreseeable future as the COVID-19 pandemic spreads.

Morrison said this was based on health advice, supported by the federal government, premiers and chief ministers.

I’m telling you 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.

But many teachers are concerned the government is ignoring their welfare and exposing them to risk of infection. This is particularly so for teachers who are in high-risk groups, such as the elderly and those with a chronic illness.

So, is the government sacrificing our teachers’s health by keeping schools open? Generally speaking, teachers are at very low risk of being exposed to COVID-19. But schools need to offer support for teachers who fall into high-risk groups.

What is the risk of COVID-19 to the average Australian?

Teachers may be feeling exposed, but it is important to be clear about the current status of this disease in Australia.

At March 17, 512 people have been diagnosed with COVID-19. On the information compiled by the ABC, of the diagnosed cases for which the potential source of the infection has been traced, most had returned from overseas or had contact with someone who returned from overseas.

That means there is currently no evidence of significant and sustained community transmission of COVID-19 in Australia – although this could change rapidly. But for the moment, the risk to those who have not travelled abroad or those who have not had contact with those who have travelled remains very small.

Everyone entering Australia from overseas (except flight attendants and residents from the Pacific Islands) is required to self-isolate for 14 days.

Anyone who has been diagnosed with COVID-19 is asked to self-isolate, and those who have been in contact with them may also be asked to do so. People showing symptoms are being tested.

This further reduces the chance of community transmission.

On top of this, the Australian government has put in place proactive measures to reduce this low chance of community transmission further. This is done by encouraging enhanced personal hygiene and increased social distancing measures.

These include working from home where possible, staying at home unless you need to go out, banning mass gatherings of more than 500 people and indoor gatherings of more than 100 people, and avoiding non-essential travel.




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All of this means the risk of anyone coming into casual contact with someone who has COVID-19 is very low. This of course means the risk of a teacher coming into contact with someone at school with COVID-19 is low too.

What if a child has COVID-19 and comes to school?

This risk to students and teachers is increased if someone in the school community has tested positive and potentially infected others.

A number of schools in Australia have shut after some students tested positive for COVID-19. This was to allow time to monitor students and teachers for any signs of infection and for extensive cleaning.

The NSW health minister said:

The advice to schools is if a child does present with a heavy cold, sore throat, cough, fever or flu-like symptoms, we’ll be contacting parents to come and collect their children.

Detailed analysis of the outbreak in Hubei province has shown that the majority of patients are adults between 20 and 50. But the severity of the disease and death rate increases with age.

Children are less likely to be diagnosed with the condition or to have severe illness. This makes teachers even less likely to encounter an infected person in the workplace.




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


And like every other member of the community, children at risk of COVID-19, such as those who have travelled overseas or who have been in contact with someone who is infected, are required to self-isolate for two weeks.

Any child who is ill is being asked to stay home from school. Anyone showing symptoms or who may be a risk is tested for the disease.

Why have other countries closed schools then?

Again we must remember, there is currently no significant and sustained community transmission of COVID-19 in Australia.

It is quite different to the circumstances earlier this year in China (particularly Hubei province) and in Europe where there is uncontrolled spread of the disease. This is particularly the case in Italy, which has shut schools nationwide.

Researchers at Imperial College London have modelled the impact of various public interventions based on data from Hubei, and their previous work with influenza.

They concluded closing schools in the case of influenza will likely reduce further infections. But school closure in the case of COVID-19 is not enough in itself to do so. And the modelling was based on established community transmission which, of course, is not currently present in Australia.




Read more:
Australian schools are closing because of coronavirus, but should they be?


Closing schools has consequences as parents need to stay home from work, some of whom will be essential workers including health workers. Or kids will end up gathering in shopping malls or with grandparents who are at particular risk from COVID-19.

Should this disease break out into the community, it may last months and prolonged closure of schools may have significant impacts on the children and their education.

The Australian government’s decision to keep schools open is based on weighing up the risks posed by schools against the health, economic and social costs of their closure.

Are teachers a high risk group because they are older?

COVID-19 is particularly threatening to certain groups of people. This includes the elderly, people with compromised immune systems and those with chronic diseases including hypertension, diabetes, heart and respiratory diseases.

Figures from a 2018 OECD report show Australian teachers are, on average, 42 years old and 30% are above the age of 50.

A government report from 2014 shows around 5% of Australian teachers are above the age of 65 and therefore at increased risk of COVID-19. It is likely many more have chronic diseases that also increase their risk.

Teachers in this group, as with any Australian, are advised to avoid travelling overseas and to avoid contact with anyone who has been diagnosed with COVID-19.




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


And although the risk is small, teachers aged above 65 or who have a chronic condition, should consider not going to school. It is advisable for schools to have policies in place to ensure people in the higher risk groups are supported if they need to stay away for a period of time.

The situation is very fluid and if COVID-19 does break out further into the community, much more aggressive social distancing measures will need to be taken, including closing schools.


Correction: this article previously said most diagnosed cases of COVID-19 in Australia were in people who had returned from overseas or had contact with someone who had. This has now been clarified to say this has been found to be the case in most diagnosed cases for which authorities have released the potential source of transmission.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.

Coronavirus Update: International


sing https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UKDx098WLPA

eu https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9gEKJSp_2QI

Italy https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f09UEjxzd0c

USA https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ThT-GAKwXpY

Africa https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MgxGqexBiS4

UK https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_E9A-Z4QW-c