Return to school plan announced

January 27, 2022 BY

Pass/ fail: Millions of rapid antigen test kits are being delivered to schools across the state ahead of the start of term 1 on Monday, 31 January. Photo: JOEL CARRETT/ AAP IMAGE

RAPID antigen testing will play a major role in the return to primary and high school classrooms next week after the State Government outlined plans to minimise COVID-19-related disruptions.

On Sunday, Premier Daniel Andrews and Minister for Education James Merlino announced 14 million rapid antigen tests will be delivered to schools and early learning centres, including 6.6 million in the first week of term.

Until at least the fourth week of term 1, kindergarten, primary and secondary school students and staff are strongly recommended to test themselves twice a week at home before school or childcare.

Ventilation is also set to play a critical part of the plan to keep schools open and slow the spread of COVID-19 in high-risk areas such as classrooms, music spaces and indoor canteens.

“Face-to-face learning is the best option for our kids’ learning and wellbeing, that’s why we’ve done the work to get students safely back in the classroom from the start of term 1, and make sure they stay there,” said Premier Daniel Andrews.

Fifty-one-thousand air purification devices have been delivered to government and non-government schools, and about 1800 schools have applied for shade sail grants for outdoor learning.

A total $7.5 million has also been set aside to improve ventilation in kindergartens.

Pupils from grade 3 and above are required to wear masks in all settings except outdoors while teachers and staff must wear masks “at all times when not actively teaching or communicating with students.”

School and early childhood staff are required to get their third dose of a COVID-19 vaccine by 25 February if they are eligible, or within three months and two weeks of their second dose, to continue working.

All education workers have also been classified as critical workers, meaning household contacts can continue working if they show no symptoms and have a negative rapid antigen test.

According to the State Government, over 29 per cent of children aged five to 11 have had one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and health authorities are aiming to have the age group double vaccinated by the end of term 1.

“With vital COVID safe steps in place like surveillance testing, improved ventilation and high rates of vaccination, we’ve done everything we can to make schools as safe as possible, and we can’t wait to welcome all students back for term 1,” Mr Merlino said.

Former and inactive teachers, principals and education support staff are being pooled to provide support to schools suffering from potential COVID-19-related worker shortages.

The State Government said remote learning is a “localised, short-term last resort”, but students who are isolating will have access to a “suite of online resources” to keep up to date with classwork.