NT parents, education union and schools prepare for 2022 school year amid COVID
As Darwin’s mother, Elizabeth Adamson, prepares to send her son Jake to school amid the Northern Territory’s Omicron wave, she knows there will be significant challenges ahead.
- Most of the territory’s COVID-19 cases are in Darwin, with numbers rising since borders opened
- On Friday, the Northern Territories government released its back-to-school plan
- NT education union expects the year to start ‘in a difficult way’
“I think we should expect children to get [COVID]“said Ms. Adamson.
“The biggest impact will probably be when teachers get it and that may mean classrooms have to close for a few days or a week.”
Since opening its borders in December, the number of coronavirus infections in the NT has steadily risen, with a record 625 daily cases recorded in the past week.
Most cases have occurred in the Greater Darwin area.
Ahead of the start of the school year on January 31, Ms Adamson said she was reassured that her five-year-old son, Jake, had received his first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
But she said if an outbreak caused her son’s school to close, distance learning would prove difficult.
“I don’t really have sick leave anymore…so that would be difficult,” she said.
NT Back to School Plan
On Friday, the Northern Territories government published its back-to-school plan, which it said was aimed at “keeping children and school safe”.
It included a series of new COVID safety measures, including “strongly encouraging” students in grades 3 and up to wear masks.
The plan also set out new guidelines for schools to follow if a positive COVID-19 case is detected, with primary school students in close contact allowed to continue attending school if they are asymptomatic.
And while health authorities have warned the territory is expected to peak in COVID-19 cases early next month, the government has said it will not delay the start of the first quarter.
“We are entering uncharted territory as we return to school in the midst of a major outbreak,” said NT Chief Minister Michael Gunner.
“But it has to be done… we can’t all hide at home waiting for COVID to leave us alone, we have to manage COVID and move on.”
Jonathan Carapetis, pediatrician and director of the Telethon Kids Institute, said governments should not delay the return to school amid the Omicron wave, noting that there were a range of benefits associated with learning in face to face.
“The educational benefits, the mental health benefits, the economic benefits to our society and the inequities of online learning must be weighed against the risks,” Professor Carapetis said.
“We know that every day of face-to-face school attendance counts.
The Territory government has encouraged parents to have their children vaccinated against COVID-19 before the start of the first trimester.
NT Health said 5,538 children have received their first dose since the vaccine rollout was expanded to include ages 5 to 11 earlier this month.
Union expects ‘rough start’ to 2022 school year
The Australian Education Union NT welcomed the government’s plan but said it expected the year to start “in a difficult way”.
“We have concerns, particularly about some of our most vulnerable employees,” said subsidiary president Jarvis Ryan.
“We will review plans to make sure they are as safe as possible.”
All staff in public schools will have access to three rapid antigen tests per week as needed and staff in remote schools will be required to take three tests in their first week in the community.
Mr Ryan said that with COVID-19 cases expected to rise in the coming weeks, the union was anticipating staff shortages.
‘It’s concerning because we don’t have a large number of teachers here in the Northern Territory…we’re struggling to fill our major vacancies,’ he said.
“We have principals, vice-principals, teachers, who are not necessarily in the classroom, but who can step in to teach.
“It will be a bumpy road to begin with…but as we have seen around the world, there is no getting around COVID.”
The NT Department of Education said more than 100 registered teachers were ready to redeploy if needed.
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