The NSW education minister has warned any children kept home from school due to their parents’ coronavirus fears will from next week be chalked up as unexplained absences.
NSW public schools will on Monday return to the classroom full-time, two months after COVID-19 restrictions forced around 800,000 children to study remotely.
Face-to-face learning resumed across NSW last week for year 12 students at state and independent schools, but only for an average of three to four days a week. Other student year groups were allowed to return at least once a week.
Assemblies and excursions will remain off the table, non-essential school visitors will be banned and parents have been warned not to linger at the school gate.
School principals will be in charge of ensuring pick-up and drop-off protocols, as well as recess and lunch rules, adhere to social distancing requirements.
Education Minister Sarah Mitchell on Tuesday told reporters that from next week the coronavirus pandemic would not be considered an adequate excuse to keep children at home, and current remote learning activities would be discontinued.
“It’s a normal school week from next week and they need to be attending, rolls will be marked as normal and unexplained absences will be followed up,” Ms Mitchell said.
“If there are any students with particular health conditions or concerns about their medical circumstances, as is always the case, they can take precautions and speak with principals.
“But the general message is that students need to return and those who aren’t there will be marked absent with the usual processes to follow unexplained absences.”
It comes as Transport Minister Andrew Constance on Monday warned of indefinite Sydney traffic chaos as social distancing measures force people off public transport in their return to on-site employment and face-to-face schooling.
Premier Gladys Berejiklian said peak-hour bus and train services are already at capacity, with just 12 passengers per bus and 32 per train carriage permitted.
Ms Berejiklian on Tuesday reiterated Sydney commuters needed to plan ahead, while students who don’t take dedicated school buses should walk or be dropped off at school.
“We want to make sure that face-to-face time in the classroom is what maintains and sustains learning through the pandemic,” Ms Berejiklian told reporters.
“But I do say it will be common for schools to be shut down temporarily, for a specific area to be on high alert, for a particular school to take extra measures if there’s a community breakout in that community with cases, and we just have to accept that.”
NSW Teachers Federation president Angelo Gavrielatos said the union had not been consulted before the government’s decision to return to full-time schooling.
He said teachers had already planned for the previously-announced staggered return to school, with face-to-face learning gradually scaled up throughout term two.
“This caused a lot of concern, frustration and anger among teachers and principals across the state. They turned themselves inside out not once, not twice, but repeatedly, trying to come to terms with this crisis,” Mr Gavrielatos told ABC TV on Tuesday.
“This is a pandemic that we find ourselves in … that’s what makes what happened last night even more important and more disrespectful.”
NSW recorded two new cases of COVID-19 in the 24 hours to 8pm on Monday from some 5300 tests, with five people in intensive care.