Page 46 - Week 01 - Tuesday, 8 February 2022

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All schools in the ACT are following a clear set of health guidelines developed by the ACT Chief Health Officer. The key measures involve the compulsory use of masks indoors for all adults, and for students in years 7 to 12. Masks for years 3 to 6 are encouraged, as is arranging students and staff into groups and keeping these groups separate through measures like staggered timetables for shared spaces and different entry points to school. This is known as “cohorting”. The measures also include improved ventilation in classrooms to ensure good circulation of fresh air, outdoor learning where possible, and increased cleaning across schools.

In addition, our public schools have implemented COVID safety plans, updated indoor air quality plans, and revised drop-off and pick-up arrangements, restrictions to visitors on site during school hours and restrictions on school events and excursions. We have also seen high vaccination rates across the ACT.

Our education and health systems have been in lockstep, encouraging and supporting school communities to access COVID-19 vaccines. The government has given school staff and early childhood educators priority access to booster doses at the airport vaccination clinic. Our program to vaccinate five to 11-year-olds is leading the nation since bookings opened on 10 January. More than 60 per cent of this cohort had received a first dose before school returned, and second doses will be delivered before the end of term 1.

Another important element of Canberra’s return to school is access to rapid antigen tests. All schools in Canberra are providing two per week to every student and staff member. Staff in out of school hours care and early childhood workers are also receiving two tests per week. These tests are our early warning system. They allow us to identify cases of COVID-19 in schools as quickly as possible. If the test is positive, parents or staff must notify the school and ACT Health. This allows us to identify who has been exposed and take action to protect others at school.

I want to remind parents and the Assembly that, while it is not compulsory, we encourage all staff and students to do a rapid antigen test twice a week. This will help us to identify cases as early as possible, including anyone who is asymptomatic. In particular, if a person has symptoms of COVID-19, we urge them to take a test. Protect your loved ones and other members of our community. Take the test and report a positive result.

The ACT government understands how important it is to keep our children and young people in their classrooms. Students need to be with their teachers and classmates to most effectively learn, collaborate and develop social and organisational skills. A teacher in the same room can better engage, more closely observe development and more accurately assist with learning solutions.

On-campus learning is the best way we know to help our children and young people to succeed in life—not only to lead to employment opportunities but, just as importantly, to participate in society as an engaged, thoughtful and compassionate member of the community.

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