MELBOURNE, Australia — Australia’s Victorian teachers are questioning whether it’s safe for senior students to return to school, with many staff unvaccinated and fearful of “fleeting” Covid-19 transmission.
Year 11 and 12 students in Melbourne will resume face-to-face learning from June 4, along with those studying The Victorian Certificate of Education (VCE) and The Victorian Certificate of Applied Learning (VCAL) classes, under one of the few tweaks for the city’s second week of lockdown.
But some educators are concerned they are being forced back to work in poorly ventilated classrooms packed with more than 20 students, as the Indian variant of coronavirus lurks in the community.
Templestowe College English department head Michelle Parker isn’t sure health authorities’ risk assessment stacks up.
“The updated information is that the density quota is one person for four square metres, except for in classrooms,” the Victorian Certificate of Education (VCE) teacher said on June 3.
“This is a variant that they’ve said can be transmitted through fleeting contact. In a poorly ventilated classroom of 26 students where we are unable to socially distance, we’ll be having many of those kinds of encounters.
“It just doesn’t really make sense with those other guidelines.”
At 29 years old, Parker is one of many teachers ineligible to receive either the AstraZeneca or Pfizer jab during the first three months of the national vaccine rollout.
She estimates just half of the co-ed secondary school’s roughly 100 staff have received a first or second dose, leaving them exposed to contracting the virus.
The Victorian branch of the Australian Education Union this week renewed its call for educators to be given priority access to vaccinations, similar to the state’s five-day blitz for aged care and disability workers.
But Deputy Chief Health Officer Allen Cheng said authorities are currently comfortable with their priority list.
“There is a balance between trying to have special groups vaccinated first, and then just trying to get as many eligible people vaccinated as possible to make it simple,” he said on June 3.
While she agrees aged care and disability workers should go first to protect the vulnerable people they work with, Parker sees it as a double standard.
“It feels like they’re asking us to go back and work on the frontline and be around hundreds of people a day, but not giving us the option to get vaccinated if we’re under 40,” she said.
Acting Premier James Merlino, who is also the state’s education minister, said the decision was based on public health advice.
“There is absolutely zero luxury to pick and choose the public health advice we receive,” he said.
“The advice from public health is that we are not in a position to have all students and staff back at school right now.”
Merlino added it was a priority for all students to return as quickly as possible.
With last year’s lockdown disruptions to schools, Parker said the decision seemed to stem from mounting criticism.
“They’ve tried to keep schools open and kids’ learning without properly thinking about the risk,” she said.
(Edited by Vaibhav Vishwanath Pawar and Nikita Nikhil)
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