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Covid outbreaks among students unlikely to shut NSW schools but staff shortages could

24 Jan 2022 By theguardian

Covid outbreaks among students unlikely to shut NSW schools but staff shortages could

Large-scale Covid-19 outbreaks among students are unlikely to lead to school closures when classes resume in New South Wales, with the state government determined to shut down schools only in the case of key staff shortages.

However a group of concerned parents and teachers says it will take legal action against the NSW Department of Education, claiming it has prevented schools from granting families leave to keep their children at home if they are worried about Covid infection.

Peter Vogel, the lawyer representing the group, told Guardian Australia negotiations with schools and the department had been ongoing since the beginning of term four last year, but the department had refused to change its policy.

The NSW and Victorian governments have released near identical plans for schools ahead of the resumption of classes next week.

A key plank of that plan for both states is an end to contact tracing if a student tests positive for the virus.

Instead it will then be up to individual schools to contact other parents to let them know there has been a positive case in the school community and that they should monitor their child for symptoms.

That, according to the NSW Teachers Federation president, Angelo Gavrielatos, has both teachers and parents concerned about the possibility of large-scale outbreaks inside schools, particularly with schools only provided with enough tests for the first few weeks of term.

But while both governments want to limit school closures, multiple sources told Guardian Australia it was likely shutdowns would occur in cases where disruptions to staffing made it impossible for classes to continue. Education department officials have told administrators it was possible as many as 20% of staff could be off sick once classes resume, and last week the Guardian revealed more than 70 public schools across NSW already had staff vacancy rates of 20% or higher.

On Monday the secretary of the NSW education department, Georgina Harrisson, said that in cases where schools were forced to close, the government would seek to limit the length of the disruptions.

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