Media release: Teachers and principals are not dispensable

The NSW Teachers Federation Executive met today and unanimously endorsed the following:

“The Prime Minister’s statements on Sunday evening were hypocritical and contradictory while the Premier failed to provide unequivocal advice this morning. What we have now is a recipe for chaos.

Teachers and principals have now been thrust onto the frontline of this crisis. There is but scant reference to the safety of teachers and principals, and other school employees, in dealing with this crisis.

We have lost confidence in our elected leaders. Decisions are being made by people who have no idea how our schools and TAFE colleges function or what is happening inside them.

Executive notes the continuing contradictions being expressed by the Prime Minister and Premier

  • the Prime Minister declared schools would remain open while shutting down all social gatherings because of this crisis
  • we are told that social distancing protocols should be observed in all other places not affected by the shutdown. The social distancing protocol of 4m2 per person is impossible to implement in classrooms, corridors and most school playgrounds.
  • we are told children are low risk agents for the virus at school but suddenly become high risk agents in shopping centres and playgrounds while also ignoring the fact that tens of thousands are travelling on trains and buses each morning and afternoon
  • we are told there is concern about kids infecting grandparents but not teachers, many of whom are also grandparents

Meanwhile, the Premier has this morning called to ‘reduce social interaction’ and ‘emphasise(s) the health advice about social distancing’ while simultaneously announcing that ‘schools will remain open’ creating a moral dilemma for parents.

We note, that finally, following over a week of daily representations, provision will be made for teachers who are at risk to work from home.

As of midday yesterday, plans were being enacted to wind back school operations. Described as the UK model, schools were to remain open with appropriate levels of supervision for children of essential workers.

In the UK, schools are being kept as empty as possible. Flexible arrangements are in place for school staff to ensure effective minimum supervision and the further ongoing development of online educational material for students not at schools. Schools and TAFE colleges cannot continue to operate as normal. We are prepared to work constructively with the government to arrive at a definition of essential services workers and commence a transition process to ensure facilities remain open to provide minimal supervision for children of affected workers. This of course will be contingent on the implementation of systems, of logistical, industrial and professional support necessary to provide complete health protection for all teachers, including our casual teachers.

The Teachers Federation Executive will meet again at 4pm on Tuesday 24 March to consider the outcomes of discussions with Government and the Department in relation to all of these matters.

The Federation will need to have complete reassurance by then that:

  • Systems will be in place to provide complete health protection for all teachers – this would include allowing any teacher who is not confident of health protection at their workplace to work from home;
  • Complete logistical, industrial and professional support to enable a core staff to provide supervision for children of parents employed in essential services and for those parents and guardians who are for equity reasons, not in a position to care for their children.

If both of these conditions cannot be demonstrably met, then the Executive will be professionally bound to call for the closure of public schools and the provision of ongoing education via distance technologies.”