Back to school: face-to-face learning to recommence from 25 October

Stock image of school students. Photo: Shutterstock.

By PETER HACKNEY

Parents, teachers and students have been given clarity around when children can return to school, with NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian and NSW Education Minister Sarah Mitchell revealing plans for a Covid-safe return to learning.

Speaking at today’s daily Covid-19 media briefing, the premier said face-to-face learning would recommence on Monday, 25 October: initially for pupils in Kindergarten and Year 1, progressing in subsequent weeks to other cohorts.

Higher School Certificate (HSC) exams would occur on Tuesday, 9 November, the premier said.

NSW Education Minister Sarah Mitchell, who was on hand to provide further details, said Years 2, 6 and 11 would start face-to-face learning on Monday, 1 November, while all other cohorts would begin on Monday, 8 November.

“It will be a staggered return, it’s in line with how we expect to see increasing vaccination rates in our community, and we will also be having these strict Covid settings on our school site to make sure that we minimise risk to our students and our staff,” Ms Mitchell said.

All NSW school staff will be required to be vaccinated by Monday, 8 November, with the premier announcing the state would hold a “special week” of vaccination beforehand for school teachers and staff.

Ms Mitchell said schools would operate on level three Covid restrictions, which require all high school students to wear face masks, among other measures. Face masks would also be strongly recommended for primary school students, she said.

Vaccines for 12 to 15-year-olds

The revelations come as the national security committee conducts meetings to discuss adding 12 to 15-year-olds to the national vaccine rollout.

Yesterday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said: “12 to 15-year-olds in Australia will be vaccinated … That is a task that is certainly well within the capability of the vaccination program.”

This morning, the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) advised that the Pfizer vaccine is safe and effective for the age group. 

Vaccination rates in people aged 16 and over continue to surge, with 63 per cent of those in NSW aged 16 and over having received a Covid vaccine and 34 per cent now fully vaccinated. 

Nationally, the respective figures are 55 per cent and 32 per cent. 

Trial re-opening for some industries

The return to learning plans are part of a wider plan to re-open the state, with the NSW Government also exploring the re-opening of one-on-one service industries such as hairdressing, according to The Sydney Morning Herald.

All parties – both customers and staff – would have to be fully vaccinated, the Herald reported.

The trial re-openings would occur in the coming weeks, and act as a litmus test for the re-opening of other industries, such as hospitality.

The NSW Government aims to begin re-opening the state once 70 per cent of the population is fully vaccinated, with the government believed to be working on a date of 18 October. 

Latest Covid stats

A total of 882 locally transmitted Covid-19 cases were recorded in NSW in the 24 hours to 8pm last night, with a further two deaths: a man in his 30s and another in his 60s.

Both of the men who died had underlying health conditions, the premier said, and both had received one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine.

There are now 767 people hospitalised with Covid-19 in NSW, including 117 in ICU – 47 of whom are on ventilators. Of the 117 in ICU, 103 are unvaccinated.

The premier said 118,000 Covid tests were conducted yesterday and that “more than 80 per cent” of the positive cases came from Western and South Western Sydney.

Call to revoke ‘unlawfully issued fines’

In other Covid-related news, the Redfern Legal Centre (RLC) is calling on the NSW Government to revoke Covid-19 fines that have been issued incorrectly by NSW Police to people undertaking lawful recreation.

In a media statement, the RLC said it was assisting a number of clients who have been issued $1,000 and $3,000 Covid-19 fines for sitting in a park, away from others, not gathering and not in LGA areas of concern.

Samantha Lee, solicitor with the police accountability practice at the RLC, said: “If police have issued a fine to someone just because they were sitting and not breaching the Covid rules, then that fine should be dismissed.

“We are concerned that the cases we are seeing are just the tip of the iceberg, and that many more people may have been fined by police when they were not doing anything wrong,” she said.

Ms Lee said under the public health orders, people are allowed to sit outside for relaxation, or to eat, drink or read.

She called for better police training and for the release of any NSW Police guidelines or standard operating procedures related to public health orders. 

Peter Hackney is the editor-in-chief of the Sydney Sentinel.