Teachers warn that schools in New South Wales and Victoria are not yet ready to go back, raising concerns about poor ventilation, lack of air filters and no guidance on how to safely handle class sizes.
“We have situations where space capacity leaves eight to ten students out in the cold, literally,” said senior vice president of the NSW Teachers Federation, Amber Flohm.
Teachers had asked the government to revise classroom sizes three months ago, but had been ignored, she said.
In NSW, teachers say the government’s policy of getting schools to open their windows to natural ventilation means some students have already been forced to learn below freezing temperatures.
A teacher in the Blue Mountains said students currently in face-to-face learning brought blankets in.
“It’s currently 13C here and it’s raining,” she said Wednesday. “We have been told that we can turn on the heater, but the heat is just blowing outside.
“Summer will also be interesting. We often have days well over 40 and have been told that we can not use the air conditioner as it recirculates the air in the room, ”she said.
Many of the teachers Guardian Australia spoke to for this story are not allowed to speak to the media, so their identity has been kept anonymous.
In NSW, kindergarten, year 1 and year 12 students return on October 18, while years 2, 6 and 11 return on October 25. All other characters resume face-to-face learning on November 1st.
On Tuesday, state schools were given ventilation reports showing how many students they could have in each room, and principles say they will not be able to fit each student.
NSW Secondary Principals’ Council Chairman Craig Petersen said in some cases that colleges had been told they could only have 23 to 28 students in a room, but most classes have 30.
“I can not send six students to another classroom,” Petersen said.
He said he had no idea where schools should place the extra students.
“I would encourage parents to seek advice from their local school,” he said.
The World Health Organization has recognized that the virus is airborne, and as such, the risk of aerosol transfer increases under certain conditions, such as poorly ventilated indoor crowded environments.
Flohm said plans to make schools Covid-safe would not be ready next week when schools were to open their doors.
“Measures such as fans, CO2 screens, could have been launched now and therefore we would not have these discussions as we are.”
A spokesman for the NSW Education Department said it had 19,000 air purifiers that would be installed throughout the state, but did not say how schools would manage to have less space for students.
“The department is convinced that the vast majority of rooms in schools can be adequately ventilated through natural and mechanically assisted ventilation,” the spokesman said.
Over the past seven days, 31 schools in NSW had been declared sites of exposure, according to figures from data collection Twitter account #ZeroCovidSchools Australia.
Some parents are worried about an outbreak.
Helen Chai, 37, is the mother of a five-year-old in Kellyville. She said that if it was her choice, the schools would not reopen yet.
“I think schools can only start opening only half a day so kids don’t have to eat lunch at school, which can reduce the risk of transfer,” she said.
Some Victorian teachers also said the state government had not told them how many students it was safe to have in the classrooms, or what the plan was if there was an outbreak in their school.
Although every Victorian state school has been promised air filters from the state government, teachers say they have not yet seen them, and one tells the Guardian Australia that her school flatly refused to get one.
“They said we might eventually get them – people joked it would be term four,” said a teacher from a primary school in Hoppers Crossing.
“It seems strange because the government made a song and dance about it. My school has none and I have not heard of other schools that got them. ”
The classrooms at her school have only a few windows that can be opened, they have no idea how many they can safely fit in each room, and there is no set plan for an outbreak, she said.
They start taking students from next week, with grades prepared for two, returning from October 18 two to three days a week.
Everyone else starts part-time face-to-face learning on Tuesday, October 26, before everyone is back five days a week in early November.
The Victorian government says it has more air purifiers coming to classrooms across Victoria each week.
“From infrastructure and CO2 revisions of school buildings to more outdoor learning spaces along with mandatory masks and vaccination for teachers and older students, we are doing everything we can to ensure that schools are low-risk environments,” a spokesman said.
“Government schools already have strict class size limits that will help with physical distance – with no more than 25 students in a classroom in high school and an average of 26 in each class in elementary school.”
A childhood educator in the city’s northern suburbs said the only ventilation they had was open doors – and students return on October 26.
“If we can not get fresh air, we are not able to minimize cross-infection.”
Another Victorian teacher working at a primary school near the city said his school also could not say when they would get filters.
“They have not arrived yet. We have lifted, but it has not borne fruit yet, ”he said.