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Returning to school in the COVID age: what you and your kids can expect this week

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It may be nearly halfway through 2020, but today many Canberra kids and their parents have first-day nerves as public school students return to the classroom in the COVID age.

Here’s what you should know in terms of teaching kids about physical distancing and what will happen if they haven’t done the recommended schoolwork while they have been remote learning, according to the ACT Education Directorate.

With non-government schools managing their own transition to the classroom from last week, ACT public school students and teachers will commence a staged return to school from today.

It will be staged over three weeks to ensure students, teachers and staff are safe and schools are fully prepared to have the appropriate measures in place, based on advice from the ACT Chief Health Officer.

The three-stage return of face-to-face learning is:

  • From today, Monday 18 May (week 4 of term 2): Pre-school, Kindergarten, Year 1, 2, 7 and Years 11 and 12. College students will attend a combination of on-campus and remote learning, with colleges making arrangements to support learning on-campus for students and subject matter that require it.
  • From Monday 25 May (week 5 of term 2): Year 3, 4 and 10 students.
  • From Tuesday 2 June (week 6 of term 2, following the Reconciliation Day long weekend): The remaining year levels of Year 5, 6, 8 and 9.

What are the specific health recommendations?

ACT Education Directorate: The advice from the ACT Chief Health Officer includes advice on physical distancing measures for adults, managing risks to vulnerable populations in schools, hygiene measures, environmental cleaning, management of suspected and confirmed cases, and the provision of routine and emergency first-aid care.

When kids return to the classroom, it is important that we are vigilant about health and hygiene. This means if your child has any kind of illness, even if it is just a runny nose, they must not come to school.

If a child in an ACT public school is unwell, their parents will be asked to collect them. Schools will be stricter in implementing these rules than families are perhaps used to, but it is for the health and safety of everyone in our school communities.

Any person experiencing COVID-19 symptoms should be tested immediately.

Should we prepare children for physical distancing?

Physical distancing measures will be implemented for adults in ACT public schools. This will include limiting assemblies, events, excursions and physical education programs that would bring large groups of staff and parents together for long periods of time.

Each school will also develop a plan to manage drop off and pick up times.

The advice from the ACT Chief Health Officer is that it is not practical or necessary for students to socially distance.

My child didn’t do all of her school work during the period of homeschooling—is she going to get in trouble?

During the remote learning period, we asked families to focus on the wellbeing of their children. Parents were not expected to be teachers in the home and we didn’t expect parents to replicate the structured timetable we would deliver in a school environment.

Teachers will be working with our children on their return to schools to support them with next steps in learning. 

Do we need to sanitise our children’s hands when we drop them off and pick them up?

Schools have stocked up on soap, hand sanitiser and paper towels and all students and staff will be regularly reminded to wash their hands with soap and water or use an alcohol-based hand sanitiser.

Hand sanitiser will be available at prominent positions in every school and there will also be a focus on other hygiene measures including encouraging everyone to cough into elbows or a tissue, placing used tissues in bins, avoiding touching eyes, noses or mouths, no sharing food or drink, not using water fountains or bubblers directly, as well as hygiene measures in the preparation of food products.

Parents should also encourage their children to wash their hands before they arrive at school and when they get home from school.

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