COVID 19 update: Cleaning, attendance and social distancing 19/03

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Dear colleagues,

I trust you’ve had the opportunity to read the email earlier today from the Minister for Education and the Secretary of the Department that included new communication from Victoria’s Chief Health Officer about the reasons why it is safe for Victoria’s schools to remain open.

It also included important information about new cleaning measures that will mean extended and additional cleaning in all government schools through to the end of term. This will include progressive cleaning throughout the day to ensure that risks of transmission are reduced.

I encourage you to share this information with your school community.

These new measures will be introduced automatically from today if you are part of the area-based cleaning model. If your school does not use this model, you will be contacted directly by the Department shortly with information on an increase in your funding allocation, in order to make arrangements for additional support. You can find out more information on the Department’s coronavirus advice web page.

Where schools are directly impacted by coronavirus (COVID-19), the Department will work with the school to undertake a deep clean of the facility. As part of this deep clean, all surfaces, furniture and equipment will be disinfected with hospital-grade disinfectant.

As you are probably aware, Middle Park Primary School was directed to close today for 24 hours as a result of a staff member testing positive for COVID-19. We of course extend our very best wishes to our colleague for a full and speedy recovery, and our best wishes to the principal, Tim Newton, as he leads his school and community through this challenge.

Below are responses to a number of other queries raised by schools.

Student attendance

At present, the best place for students to learn is at school.

The exception is where students are being kept out of school due to self-isolation requirements or based on medical advice.

In such cases, schools should work with families to ensure that students can remain engaged in learning and are provided with appropriate materials and support, drawing on a range of options including the new Learning from Home website.

Schools are not obliged to support continuity of learning where the school remains open and parents choose to remove their children from school due to general concerns in relation to COVID-19.

Social distancing in schools

Social distancing is important to prevent the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19). One of the recommendations from health authorities is that people should endeavour to keep a distance of 1.5 metres between themselves and others. This can be implemented by staff in schools between themselves and colleagues. It is not, however, always practical for this advice to be applied to interactions with students, especially young students. It is important to note in this context that the Victorian Chief Health Officer’s advice is that the risk of transmission represented by children appears to be low.

Nevertheless, schools can take the following practical steps to implement social distancing strategies:

Greetings should take the form of non-contact greetings.

Where possible, staff and students should endeavour to keep 1.5 metres distance from each other.

The highest standards of hygiene should be practiced in staffrooms, including washing drink and food containers with hot water and detergent and regularly wiping down surfaces with disinfectant.

Schools should suspend any large gatherings of staff and students at one time, such as whole school or sub-school assemblies and large information evenings.

Schools must not hold any events that involve over 500 people.

In order to reduce the gathering of large groups at any one time, schools should consider staggering the start and finish of the school day (where this does not extend the school day to an unreasonable degree) and staggering recess and lunch breaks and other key transition times.

Where students line up to enter class, they should be encouraged to keep 1.5 metres between each other where possible.

Where students usually enter and leave class in an unstructured manner, this practice can be changed so students enter in a more structured way so a distance of 1.5 metres is maintained.

Students, especially in secondary schools, should be encouraged to keep a distance of 1.5 metres between each other and between themselves and staff.

Where possible, classroom furniture should be rearranged to provide maximum space between tables.

Seating arrangements should also be changed to maximise distance between students. For example, students can be seated along the short edges and well as long edges of tables, and tables can be moved to the full front, back and side walls of the classroom.

Student group work should be suspended, except where students are collaborating using digital technologies.

Except for very young students, student work can be handed to a teacher for feedback rather than feedback being provided immediately by the teacher in close proximity to the student.

Further advice regarding social distancing strategies can be found on the Department’s coronavirus website.

I am very aware of the issues that have been raised around supporting students with disabilities and complex health needs. We are committed to ensuring a high level of education, care and support continues for these students and staff are supported to provide this.

We are working through a number of issues in this regard, and I hope to have more information to share shortly. Thank you for your patience.

Yours sincerely,

Dr David Howes                                                                                                                                               Deputy Secretary, Schools and Regional Services

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