Schools scramble for plans as students return


SCHOOLS say they need clear guidelines on what to do if a student or staff ­member gets COVID-19, as they reopen for all students today after scrambling to ­create their own shutdown plans in case of an outbreak.

It comes as Queensland's more than 800,000 students are now allowed back in ­classrooms after five weeks of remote learning this term, and a final week of student-free days in term one.

An independent school source said schools were aware they had to contact Queensland Health and had emergency reporting procedures, but a clear template of protocols to follow if a student or staff member tested positive for coronavirus would be helpful for schools as they reopened for all students.


Rosie Dodd, 13 and in grade 8, Emma Wong, 13 and in grade 8, and Caitlin Huf, 14 and in grade 9, attending Brisbane Girls Grammar. Picture: Steve Pohlner
Rosie Dodd, 13 and in grade 8, Emma Wong, 13 and in grade 8, and Caitlin Huf, 14 and in grade 9, attending Brisbane Girls Grammar. Picture: Steve Pohlner


Another anonymous independent school source said that schools felt like they were on their own to come up with detailed plans, with no clear official step-by-step protocols.

"There's heaps of ambiguity and it would be great if there were some actual guidelines to follow," they said.

"They had the time to put a template for how many people should be in classes and class spacing, but why not put out a template on how schools should respond to an outbreak? If the school gets a case, how long are we required to close for, who organises cleaning, how long are parents expected to keep kids home for, is there a requirement that if that happens, all students, parents or staff get ­tested, or is there a requirement for only people who have come into contact?"



Independent Education Union secretary Terry Burke confirmed that some schools were saying they wanted clearer guidelines.

He said he understood the view that schools wanted clear-cut guidelines, and that health authorities would say no exact two circumstances were the same so they could not provide absolute black and white advice.



"Our view would be that you would always take the more cautious approach rather than a risk approach, so shutting the school for a ­couple of days is a clearly ­significant step, but if it's a proper response to a suspected until confirmed otherwise COVID-19 carrier then clearly you would do that,'' he said.

"The key thing for schools would be to have a very, very clear set of procedures.''

The Queensland Education Department confirmed it had sent state schools the health protocols.



"In the event of an outbreak of COVID-19 at a school, Queensland Health has the ability to respond ­rapidly and thoroughly to limit any transmission," a spokesperson said.

"The school community will be notified immediately by their school, which may need to close temporarily to allow time for public health authorities to conduct contact tracing and deep cleaning to be undertaken, to ensure the safety of staff and students prior to reopening.''

Independent Schools Queensland executive director David Robertson said schools were aware of their obligations to report any suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19 to authorities.

"Queensland independent schools would work closely with their local health units … and would follow the advice of the expert health authorities," he said.

As school returns today, all Queensland students will be encouraged to regularly wash their hands and schools should have hand sanitiser available for use.

Schools have implemented staggered start and finish times, designated pick-up and drop-off areas, and are no longer allowing parents to drop their younger children to the classroom in order to manage COVID-19 social-distancing restrictions.

On average, 85 per cent of Prep, 83 per cent of Year 1 ­pupils, 79 per cent of Years 11 and 12, and 22.5 per cent of Years 2-10 students attended state schools last week.

If parents choose to keep their child at home, they will still be responsible for their learning at home, with teachers not expected to teach remotely, except if the child is absent for medical reasons, in which case the school will arrange home-learning support.


Brad and Susan Polkinghorne with children Hannah, 9, Isabella, 1, and Jacob, 5. Picture: Peter Wallis
Brad and Susan Polkinghorne with children Hannah, 9, Isabella, 1, and Jacob, 5. Picture: Peter Wallis


Mother-of-three Susan Polkinghorne said her family was thrilled school was back today for all, as her middle child Jacob, 5, has loved returning to Prep, with her eldest Hannah, 9, "raring to go" back to class at Guardian Angels' School Wynnum.

"We're really excited, the whole house is excited,'' Ms Polkinghorne said.

"The kids are excited about seeing their friends and we're excited about having life return to normal.

"Hannah has really missed her friends, so she's really excited to go back and have a play with them and was talking a lot about seeing the friends and the teachers again.

"I think the home schooling and working from home has put the two things in competition with each other, so we had to divide our time, I'm sure we'll miss having so much time together, but it's also been a source of anxiety and stress for parents I think.

"The school has got very good protocols in place and I have got good faith in the way they're handling that.''


Jacob Polkinghorne, 5, and sister Hannah, 9, are happy to be going back to school. Picture: Peter Wallis
Jacob Polkinghorne, 5, and sister Hannah, 9, are happy to be going back to school. Picture: Peter Wallis




● Students and staff must not attend school if unwell.

● If a child is unwell schools will notify the parent or guardian. The parent or guardian must collect the child as soon as possible.

● Students will be regularly encouraged to practise good hygiene including washing hands, using hand sanitizer and covering coughs and sneezes.

● Physical distancing of 1.5m is required by all adults at schools.

● Parents must not gather in and around school grounds, carparks, school gates or outside classrooms.

Source: Department of Education & Queensland Health




Brisbane Girls Grammar principal Jacinda Euler.
Brisbane Girls Grammar principal Jacinda Euler.

QUEENSLAND students can't wait to walk through the front gates of school after six weeks of remote learning, with many excited to see their friends again.

Brisbane Girls Grammar School principal Jacinda Euler said remote learning had been a challenging time for students, school staff and families, but teachers had worked harder than at any other time in their professional lives to deliver quality learning. The school had taken precautions to safeguard against COVID-19.

"Teachers have focused on ensuring that foundation concepts and essential skills have been prioritised so that students are well prepared for the resumption of regular classes," Ms Euler said.

Year 8 students Rosie Dodd and Emma Wong and Year 9 pupil Caitlin Huf are among the hundreds of thousands of children expected to return to school.

"I can't wait to see all of my friends; it's probably the aspect that I am looking forward to the most," Caitlin said.

Rosie said she was looking forward to face-to-face teaching, as it was much easier to communicate, while Emma was "very excited" to start normal classes again "as some things are harder to learn via webinar".








Originally published as Schools scramble for plans as students return