As Darwin’s mother Elizabeth Adamson prepares to send her son Jake to school in the midst of the Northern Territory’s Omicron wave, she knows there will be significant challenges ahead.
- Most of the territory’s COVID-19 cases are in Darwin, with the number increasing since the borders opened
- On Friday, the NT government announced its back-to-school plan
- NT’s education federation expects the year to get off to a “hard start”
“I think we have to expect the kids to get it [COVID]said Mrs. Adamson.
“The biggest impact will probably be when teachers get it, and that could mean the classrooms have to close for a few days or a week.”
Since opening its borders in December, the number of coronavirus infections in the NT has been steadily rising, with a record 625 daily cases recorded last week.
Most cases have been in the Greater Darwin area.
Before returning to school on January 31, Ms. Adamson said she was reassured by the fact that her five-year-old son Jake had received his first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
But she said that if an outbreak resulted in the closure of her son’s school, distance learning would prove difficult.
“I actually have no sick leave left … so that would be challenging,” she said.
NT’s back-to-school plan
On Friday, the NT government announced its back-to-school plan, which it said was aimed at “keeping children safe and in school”.
It included a number of new COVID-safe measures, including “strong encouragement” of students in 3rd year and up to wear masks.
The plan also outlined new directions for schools to follow if a positive COVID-19 case is detected, with close contact to primary school students who are allowed to continue going to school if they are asymptomatic.
And while health officials have warned that territory is expected to peak in COVID-19 cases early next month, the government has said it will not delay the start of the first period.
“We are entering unknown territory and returning to school in the midst of a major outbreak,” said NT Chief Minister Michael Gunner.
“But this has to be done … we can not all hide at home and wait for COVID to leave us alone, we have to deal with COVID and get on with it.”
Jonathan Carapetis, a pediatrician and director of the Telethon Kids Institute, said governments should not delay returning to school in the midst of the Omicron wave, noting that there were a number of benefits associated with face-to-face learning.
“The educational benefits, the mental health benefits, the economic benefits to our society and the inequalities of online learning must be balanced against the risks,” said Professor Carapetis.
“We know that every single day of attending face-to-face schooling counts.
The government of the territory has encouraged parents to have their children vaccinated against COVID-19 prior to the beginning of the first semester.
NT Health said 5,538 children have received their first dose since the vaccine rollout was expanded to include 5-11-year-olds earlier this month.
The union expects a “hard start” to the school year 2022
The Australian Education Union NT welcomed the government’s plan but said it expected the year to get off to a “hard start”.
“We have concerns, especially about some of our more vulnerable employees,” said department president Jarvis Ryan.
“We will look at plans to make sure they are as safe as possible.”
All public school staff will have access to three rapid antigen tests per week as needed, and remote school staff will be required to take three tests in their first week in the community.
Ryan said that with COVID-19 cases expected to increase in the next few weeks, the union expected staff shortages.
“It’s worrying because we do not have a large teaching workforce here in the Northern Territory … we’re just struggling to fill our key positions,” he said.
“We have principals, assistant principals, teachers who may not necessarily be in class, but who can step in to teach.
“This will be an uneven road to begin with … but as we have seen from all over the world, there is no getting around COVID.”
The NT Education Department said more than 100 registered teachers were on standby to relocate if necessary.
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