TOUGH CALL: QTU President Kevin Bates says keeping schools open is a health risk to students, teachers, and their families.
TOUGH CALL: QTU President Kevin Bates says keeping schools open is a health risk to students, teachers, and their families.

Teachers Union: Keeping schools open is a health risk

THE constantly evolving coronavirus outbreak has required government containment measures to evolve just as quickly, but the education sector remaining stagnant could be putting teachers’ health and job security at risk.

Increasingly tight coronavirus restrictions being handed down by State and Federal Governments have focused on enforcing social distancing and self-isolation wherever possible for the largest number of people.

However, these measures are not reaching schools – the vast majority across Queensland remain open, though parents and caregivers do have the option to keep their children home and take their learning online.

As the virus continues to spread across the Southern Downs community, many are urging the State Government to make a decision and end the uncertainty for teachers and students alike.

Just last week, a number of teachers in the region voiced concerns of feeling like “virus fodder” and “cringing” every time they have to touch an item in the classroom.

One educator, who wished to remain anonymous, said, “It’s going to get really ugly if we don’t get some supplies soon. We’ll have to stop lots of things.”

Yesterday morning, Assumption College Warwick announced they were testing students for the coronavirus after members of the school community were likely exposed to a confirmed case in Killarney.

Additionally, Warwick State High School said they had told four students and their families to self-isolate after coming into contact with someone who later tested positive for the virus.

While neither school has confirmed a positive case of the virus, the announcements sent waves of concern throughout the community, especially for teachers required to stay in schools.

Kevin Bates, the president of the Queensland Teachers Union (QTU), said the disparity between the social distancing expected in other areas of everyday life and that required from teachers on a daily basis was one of the key issues with keeping schools open.

“Your local schools have hundreds of students going along every day without the space to enforce the social distancing required by other areas,” Mr Bates said.

“There’s concern from parents, concern from students, and massive concern from teachers about being in a workplace where they can’t follow recommended procedures.”

“Around 19 per cent (of teachers in Queensland) are over the age of 60, you would expect that a significant proportion of those 8000 to 9000 people are going to have an underlying health condition, and so won’t be able to work under coronavirus measures.”

Mr Bates added that while the QTU’s negotiations with the State Government had been positive and productive so far, he was hoping for a decision on when to close schools, and for how long, as soon as possible.

“We have this overarching dilemma over what is happen in the lead up to and afterwards the Easter holidays. When schools eventually close, it’s likely to be for the long term,” Mr Bates said.

“We are looking for an option that keeps teachers working and students learning, but without being in a school. But it’s about taking the time to provide plans for teachers and principals to deliver plans and learning content.”