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Queensland parents, teachers left in the dark on COVID-19 protocols as back to school date looms

Queensland students are due to return to school within the next two weeks, but the state government has yet to release a COVID-19 management plan, leaving parents and teachers with many questions about how to handle the virus in the classroom.

The Education Ministry said a “robust plan,” which includes guidance on testing and isolation protocols, has been given to the Cabinet, but a launch date has not been announced.

The government said earlier that it would release its plan last Monday, but it postponed that because Education Minister Grace Grace tested positive for the coronavirus.

Prime Minister Anastasia Balaschuk said she was “not afraid” of delaying the release of the plan.

“Schools do not officially return until February 7,” she said.

“Parents will have more than a week to know clearly what our plan is for back to school, so it is being finalized at the moment.

“Parents will hear that in the next couple of days, I will definitely have it long before I go back to school.”

Year 11 and Year 12 students are scheduled to begin a week of online learning on Monday, with face-to-face learning starting for all other year levels on February 7.

98 per cent of public school teachers in Queensland are fully vaccinated, and the Education Department said 5,000 fully vaccinated relief teachers are on standby if needed.

‘There is no ready-made plan’ for vulnerable school families

Parents like Springfield Lakes, and her mother, Chantelle McClain, are concerned about going back to school and what it will mean for her vulnerable family.

Chantelle Maclean and her son Joshua, who are about to start their tenth year in Queensland.(Supplied: Chantelle McLean)

She has multiple sclerosis and recently underwent chemotherapy.

Her 18-year-old son has an acquired brain injury and she’s worried that her 15-year-old, who is due to start his 10th year, might bring the virus home with him.

“He’s fully vaccinated and might be fine. But if he gives it to me at home, I know I probably won’t, and as a parent, where does that leave my children?” She said.

She called for a plan for families with vulnerable members to be able to access online learning.

“I have been in contact with the school and they are not quite sure what to do about this issue, and they will not offer a virtual education for children starting in just over a week.

“My son wants to go back to school with his buddies. I know he misses them.

“At the same time, my point is, you know, is it worth the risk? Is it worth the risk of bringing COVID into the house?”

“I understand that life has to go back to normal but that’s about the fact that there is no plan in place for people in my position, and I’m not the only one who is concerned.”

Kate Wilson also has a vulnerable child and concerns are raised about their safety.

She is worried about sending her son back to school this year because he has only received one dose of the COVID vaccine.

Two children holding a baby in a park.
Kate Wilson has three children and is concerned about what might happen if COVID spreads at school.

And his two younger brothers, one of whom has an underlying health condition, are not yet eligible for the hat.

“When asked to avoid going out if you have vulnerable members in your family, we can’t understand why online learning isn’t on the table right now,” Wilson said.

“We understand that our child needs to be taught and needs to get back to learning of some kind.

“It would be more useful to know or have information on how to protect our family in the way we have been protected up to this point.

“There is no way we would clearly want to see him lose access to education. It is the most important part of life for him. We also want to know that our vulnerable child is safe too.”

It is almost impossible to stop its spread in schools

Griffith University infectious disease expert Nigel MacMillan said it would be “virtually impossible” to stop the spread of the virus in schools once they reopen.

“Like the opening of state borders, that’s just something we have to go through,” Professor Macmillan said.

“I think this will be a problem in February.”

Prof Macmillan has not called for school children to be tested for COVID-19 twice a week with RATs as will happen in New South Wales and Victoria once school there resumes next week.

“If you’re trying to prevent things, you’re going to test it every day, but we’re not trying to do that anymore,” he said.

“We’re basically in a controlled release environment and by keeping the sick child at home, you’re going to prevent further transmission.”

Schools left to make their own protocols

The Independent Education Consortium Queensland chapter secretary, Terry Burke, said his members also had questions for the government.

What are the expectations regarding the management of a [COVID-19] at the school level? Mr. Burke said.

“What are the guidelines for how to approach that as an educational institution?”

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