The NSW government has said closing down schools amid worsening Covid-19 outbreaks throughout winter will be an absolute “last resort”, but at the same time schools are struggling with a “chronic teacher shortage which the previous government ignored”.
Deputy Premier and Education Minister Prue Car said students in six out of 2200 schools across NSW have been forced to learn from home on Friday due to Covid outbreaks.
But Ms Car said she has told the Department of Education home learning is a “thing of the past”.
“We need our children in our classrooms learning,” she told media on Friday afternoon.
“Unfortunately, there may be some exceptions to that rule from time to time, particularly because of the chronic teacher shortage that we’re experiencing … that we inherited from the previous coalition government”.
Ms Car said there have often been outbreaks of Covid in the staffroom, with schools struggling to staff particular year groups.
However, the government’s expectation is children are to be in classrooms and schools do not close.
“We will continue to update the community and make sure we’re communicating with school communities and parents and students to make sure this is an absolute last resort,” the Minister said.
With colder weather approaching and an expected outbreak of viruses including Covid, Ms Car said the Department of Education’s plan is to listen to health advice on the best situation to keep staff and students healthy.
Ms Car said the government is struggling through a “chronic teacher shortage of massive proportions” which she claims the previous government “ignored and denied”.
Ultimately, Ms Car said closing schools down due to Covid is a “last resort”, but there may be exceptions.
“A lot of the problems we’re experiencing with Covid outbreaks are made even worse and are exacerbated by the chronic teacher shortage we have been inherited from the previous government, who were already thousands of teachers short,” she said.
“So when there’s a Covid outbreak in a staffroom, it’s pretty hard to staff a school.”
The comments come after a high school in Liverpool, in Sydney’s outer southwestern suburbs, had to introduce temporary mask mandates following a Covid outbreak.
Liverpool Girls High School (LGHS) made the announcement on Tuesday, revealing masks would be compulsory for the next several days.
“Due to an increase in Covid cases in our community, mask wearing will be mandatory for all staff, students and visitors to LGHS for the next five days from May 16,” a post to social media read.
The following day, the school of around 900 students announced year levels 9 to 11 would be required to study from home for three days.
“Years 7, 8 and 12 will be learning at school and are expected to attend … Years 9, 10 and 11 will be learning from home and are expected to be online at 9.30am,” the school said.
“These measures will be in place from Wednesday 17th, to Friday 19th of May.
“We ask that parents advise the school if their child tests positive to Covid-19 and keep their child at home if they are displaying cold and flu-like symptoms.”
The NSW Department of Education said while the classroom was the best place for students to learn, this must be “balanced” with the health, safety and wellbeing of students and staff.
The department said fewer than 1 per cent of students in the state have been asked to spend time learning from home due to the government’s temporary Covid-19 measures.
Orange High School, a co-ed secondary school in regional NSW, has also reportedly asked students from years 7 to 10 to study from home this week amid their own outbreak.
Earlier this month, the World Health Organisation declared Covid-19 was no longer a global health emergency.