Teachers warn that schools in New south Wales and Victoria are not yet ready to return, raising concerns about poor ventilation, lack of air filters, and lack of guidance on how to safely manage class sizes.
“We have situations where the classroom capacity leaves eight to 10 students out in the cold, literally,” said NSW Federation of Teachers Senior Vice President Amber Flohm.
Teachers had asked the government to audit classroom sizes three months ago but were ignored, he said.
In New South Wales, teachers say the government’s policy of schools opening their windows for natural ventilation means that some students have already been forced to learn in freezing conditions.
A teacher in the Blue Mountains said that students currently learning face-to-face were bringing blankets.
“It is currently 13 ° C here and it is raining,” he said on Wednesday. “We have been told that we can turn on the heat, but the heat is blowing outside.
“Summer will also be interesting. We often have more than 40 days and we have been told that we cannot use the air conditioning, as it recirculates the air in the room, ”he said.
Many of the teachers Guardian Australia spoke to for this story are unable to speak to the media, so their identities have been kept anonymous.
In NSW, Kindergarten, Year 1 and Year 12 students will return on October 18, while Years 2, 6 and 11 return on October 25. All other grades will resume face-to-face learning on November 1.
On Tuesday, state schools received ventilation reports showing how many students they could have in each classroom, and principals say they will not be able to accommodate all students.
NSW Secondary Board of Directors Chairman Craig Petersen said that in some cases high schools had been told they could only have 23-28 students in a room, but most classes have 30.
“I can’t send six students to another classroom,” Petersen said.
He said he had no idea where the schools would place the additional students.
“I would encourage parents to seek advice from their local school,” he said.
the World Health Organization has recognized that the virus is transmitted through the air and, as such, the risk of aerosol transmission increases under certain conditions, such as in closed environments with poor ventilation.
Flohm said plans to make schools safe for Covid would not be ready for next week, when schools were due to open their doors.
“Measures such as fans, CO2 monitors, could have been implemented by now and, therefore, we would not be having these discussions that we are.”
A spokesman for the NSW department of education said it had 19,000 air purifiers to be installed across the state, but did not say how schools would manage to have less space for students.
“The department is confident that the vast majority of spaces in schools can be adequately ventilated by natural and mechanically assisted ventilation,” the spokesperson said.
In the past seven days, 31 schools in New South Wales had been declared exposure sites, according to figures from the data-gathering Twitter account #ZeroCovidSchools Australia.
Some parents are concerned about an outbreak.
Helen Chai, 37, is the mother of a five-year-old in Kellyville. He said that if it was his choice, the schools would not reopen just yet.
“I think schools can start by opening only half a day so children don’t need to eat lunch at school, which could reduce the risk of transmission,” he said.
Some Victorian teachers also said the state government had not told them how many students it was safe to have in classrooms, or what the plan was in case there was an outbreak at their school.
Although all of Victoria’s state schools have been promised state government air filters, teachers say they haven’t seen them yet, with one of them telling Guardian Australia that his school flatly refused to get one.
“They said we could get them eventually, people were joking that it would be the fourth quarter,” said a teacher at an elementary school in Hoppers Crossing.
“It seems strange because the government did a song and a dance about it. My school doesn’t have any and I haven’t heard of any other school that does. “
Their school’s classrooms only have a few windows that open, they have no idea how many can fit in each room safely, and there is no plan in place for an outbreak, he said.
They begin to receive students from next week, and the preparation of grades two returns from October 18 for two or three days a week.
Everyone else will start part-time face-to-face learning on Tuesday, October 26 before everyone returns five days a week in early November.
The Victorian government says that more air purifiers arrive in Victoria’s classrooms every week.
“From infrastructure and CO2 audits of school buildings to more outdoor learning space along with mandatory masks and vaccinations for teachers and older students, we are doing everything we can to ensure that schools are low-risk environments,” said a spokesperson. .
“Public schools already have strict class size limits, which will help with physical distancing, with no more than 25 students in a classroom in high school and an average of 26 in each class in elementary school.”
An early childhood educator in the city’s northern suburbs said the only ventilation they had was open doors, and the students return on October 26.
“If we can’t breathe fresh air, we can’t minimize cross infection.”
Another Victorian teacher who works in an elementary school near the city said that his school also could not say when they would receive filters.
“They have not arrived yet. We have the promise, but it has not yet paid off, ”he said.