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Mark McGowan (left) and Sue Ellery have acknowledged the difficulty of managing school closures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo: Attila Csaszar

McGowan says students should stay home

The state government has this morning announced that it is encouraging parents to keep their children at home, reflecting what it said were new guidelines based on national medical advice.

The decision comes one week after Premier Mark McGowan said that a total closure of schools in WA would amount to a last resort in combatting the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mr McGowan today said he understood the issue had been difficult for teachers, parents and students, stipulating that while schools will remain open for the rest of the term, current circumstances meant it was not business as usual.

“I want to reassure parents that our schools are well prepared to continue to provide education for their children,” Mr McGowan said.

“It’s important that those who are learning from home abide by all other laws and that includes all recently-introduced social distancing rules.

“Once again, I thank our teachers and school staff who are providing the critical service of educating our children during this difficult and evolving time.

“I know I'm not alone in recognising their extraordinary efforts for Western Australian children.”

As of this coming Monday, all students who attend public schools will be taught; however, parents are now encouraged to keep their kids at home where possible if they can access online resources.

Teachers will use all of next week as well as the Easter break to develop new learning arrangements, with the intention being to create a longer-term education model for Term 2 and beyond.

No announcement has been made on whether schools will reopen at the start of next term.

Children of parents who need to maintain employment and cannot otherwise care for their children, as well as children of parents who would otherwise be supervised by grandparents if not at school, are encouraged to continue attending school.

Education Minister Sue Ellery gave the assurance that all school-aged children in WA will continue to receive an education regardless of arrangements, and directed parents to online resources so that children could continue to learn from home.

“We understand this is an extremely difficult time for parents and their children and an enormous amount of work has gone on behind the scenes to ensure education can continue from home,” Ms Ellery said.

“This week I announced the learning at home website that has been developed by education experts to provide parents and students with lessons that are in line with the curriculum.

“Resources will continually be added for every year group to give children and young people the best opportunity to learn from home.”

State School Teachers Union of WA president Pat Byrne offered qualified praise for the announcement earlier today.

While she welcomed the overall announcement, she said measures to keep teaching kids throughout next week would be unworkable, and that WA should follow Victoria and Queensland’s direction in bringing forward pupil-free days to allow teachers time to prepare ahead of Term 2.

“What schools need is certainty,” Ms Byrne said.

“Providing that certainty will allow educators to get on with the enormously complex task of preparing online and other learning materials for Term 2.

“At this point, no-one knows what schooling is going to look like in Term 2, and they need as much time to prepare as possible.”

While the state government has further relaxed its policy on attendance in recent days, many private schools in WA, including Aquinas College and Newman College, have already taken steps to transition towards online learning.

Mr McGowan has in the past been reticent to enforce school closures of any sort.

He softened his stance on Monday though, announcing that parents were free to choose whether to send their children to school.

Nationally, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has declined to enforce school closures, however all states and territories have now relaxed their stance on student attendance in some form or another in response to the pandemic.

It is generally thought that children are unlikely to suffer complications as a result of COVID-19, with the elderly and immuno-compromised individuals considered to be in the highest risk category.

Experts however remain divided on what role children play in acting as asymptomatic carriers in the community.

The effectiveness of school closures has also been disputed, on the basis that removing children from school may also remove essential healthcare workers from the workforce or put elderly caregivers at heightened risk of contracting the virus.

Most countries that have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic have introduced some form of school closures to slow the spread of the virus.

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