The majority of South Australian teachers want the state government to push the start of the school year back by two weeks, their union says, due to concerns about reception and 7th grade pupils potentially starting primary and secondary schools online for the first time.
It told Australian Education Union branch president Andrew Gohl InDaily this morning that of the approximately 1,500 teachers, principals and support staff who responded to a survey released by the union yesterday afternoon, the majority wanted South Australia to follow Queensland’s lead by postponing the start of semester 1 by two more weeks. on February 14th.
He said teachers wanted schools and kindergartens given the two weeks to help prepare lessons and ensure sites are COVID-ready before students return.
Term 1 is scheduled to start on January 31, but this date may change due to the flood of COVID-19 cases across the state and concerns about staff whose teachers are forced to isolate themselves if they are contagious or identified as close contacts.
The Queensland government announced last week that it would delay the start of the school year by two weeks to protect children, staff and families amid a wave of Omicron cases in that state.
But South Australian Prime Minister Steven Marshall has previously said that SA would reach its peak in the COVID-19 case before Queensland – probably in the third or fourth week of this month.
He said a decision on when schools will reopen and in what capacity is likely to be made on Friday after tomorrow’s national government meeting.
Gohl said the union, which has not yet finalized its position on whether to support a postponement of the start of term 1, will meet with Education Director Rick Perse and Education Minister John Gardner this afternoon to discuss feedback from teachers.
“A two-week delay would mean teachers (and) staff are on duty, but nothing else would happen,” he said.
“The reason for this is to allow work preparation to ensure that jobs are safe to go back, so … schools and kindergartens are provided with all the safety equipment needed – disinfectants and masks – and to give the department time to produce information that people are looking for.
“It would also be time for teachers to prepare if schools go online again.”
The union chief said that while teachers were now proficient at online schooling, a two-week delay in school could increase the chances of students returning to face-to-face learning.
He said there were “real concerns” that online learning could hinder students’ ability to establish relationships with their peers and teachers at the beginning of the year, especially for reception and 7th-year students starting elementary school and high school for the first time.
“You’ve got your brand new reception kids on the way in, kids have always got kids’ movements, we also have 7s going to high school for the first time,” he said.
“For many of them, it’s a new environment and there will be some anxiety that they will experience.
“There has also been a seepage of concern from people who say, ‘we have to do the best for our 12s.’
“There is a concern about what impact the start of the school year will have on these groups specifically.”
The South Australian Commissioner for Children and Adolescents, Helen Connolly, said she urged schools to minimize the impact of pandemic-related conditions on 7-year-olds.
She had had a “significant build and expectation” around year groups starting in high school for the first time this year, and it was important that their experience was as positive as it could be.
“We know that school is much more than formal learning, and that it is also about life skills, support and opportunities, so that 7th graders who start the high school journey together as a group are an essential part of setting this year up for continued success. ” she said.
“With all the debates surrounding Omicron and vaccinations and start dates, let’s not forget that from a children’s perspective, it’s still about the excitement and nervousness of starting high school, and that it’s a priority to balance this with the decisions that are made. “
Gohl said a two-week delay in school would also “maximize the number of vaccinations of five- to 11-year-olds before returning to school.”
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Vaccine rollout for this group started this week, but those within that age group will not be fully vaccinated when schools return, as the Australian Immunization Technical Advisory Group has recommended an eight-week interval between vaccine doses.
An estimated 148,253 children between the ages of five and 11 are in southern Australia, but as of Monday, only about 52,000 – about 35 per cent – were booked into two vaccine appointments.
Marshall told reporters yesterday that the government had a “major concern” over the teaching capacity of schools and kindergartens when schools resume.
“When they get infected, it makes it very, very difficult,” he said.
“This is one of the reasons we’re really pushing that booster program right now.”
This comes when the University of South Australia announced this morning that all lectures would be delivered online, with tutorials that will also be conducted online where possible.
The university has also mandated the use of face masks for all activities on campus unless people have medical exemptions.
“Together, these initiatives provide us with a risk minimization framework for managing endemic COVID-19 in our community,” Uni SA Vice Chancellor Professor David Lloyd wrote in an email to staff this morning.
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