Parents say they’re “incredibly nervous” about returning their children to school during the country’s largest COVID-19 outbreak amid mixed messages from the NSW government.
- Over 2,000 parents attended a public Q&A with the NSW Department of Education earlier this week
- Many parents expressed concern around the enforcement of surveillance testing and RAT supplies
- The NSW Department of Education was contacted for comment
Most students and teachers are due to return to classrooms on Tuesday and will be required to undergo bi-weekly surveillance testing.
On Tuesday evening, the Federation for Parents and Citizens Associations of NSW (P&C) invited parents to a public online Q&A session with representatives from the NSW Department of Education and a pediatric infectious disease specialist.
Up to 2,000 people were in attendance – the highest-ever turnout, according to federation president Natalie Walker – and hundreds of questions were submitted.
Screenshots of the chat log from the Zoom meeting, seen by the ABC, showed many parents were uncomfortable about the return-to-school plan unveiled on Sunday.
Many expressed dismay at a perceived lack of enforcement behind surveillance testing for rapid antigen tests (RATs) across the state’s 3,000 schools.
Some were also put off by other parents publicly declaring they would not subject their children to two nasal swabs from the RAT kits a week, while some others were observed being anti-mask.
One Sydney mother felt the education department’s explanations were “vague” and said she and other parents left the Tuesday meeting feeling less confident than before.
“Parents were raising concerns I hadn’t even thought of,” said Lucinda, who did not wish to use her real name.
“[The education department] tried to reassure everyone that there were enough tests, but I still have not heard from my school about how and when to pick those kits up.
While most schools will return on February 1, some independent schools are already back.
NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet said yesterday over 80 per cent of 6 million rapid antigen tests had been delivered to schools and the rest would be distributed by the end of tonight.
Mixed messages floated around briefly after the Department of Education had advised students “must” return a negative RAT test before attending their first day back.
A clarification was later released advising students “should” return a negative test, with a Department spokesperson advising it was not compulsory but “strongly encouraged”.
Mr Perrottet confirmed the government’s position during a press conference.
“We’ve made that very clear from the outset, the tests do not need to be done prior to the first day of school,” he said.
But some parents in Tuesday’s meeting felt the lack of oversight made the surveillance testing functionally voluntary.
“So RAT tests are optional… so if my daughter catches COVID at school and brings it home to her grandparents who are quite old and kills them, my child has to carry that on their shoulders their entire life,” one attendee wrote to the panel of education representatives.
Another parent expressed concern about their two children contracting the virus and passing it onto their younger sibling, who had a rare heart defect.
Under the return-to-school blueprint unveiled earlier this week, students and teachers who test positive on a RAT kit must report it to their school principal.
But Lucinda says there is still a RAT shortage across the state, which means people may not be tested regularly.
“There’s a clear incentive for people to take the RATs and sell them,” she said.
“I think the reality is that a lot of people aren’t going to be doing it twice a week. There’s no mechanism in place to reassure that everyone is testing negative.”
The NSW Department of Education was contacted for comment.
The P&C president, Natalie Walker, said parents were understandably stressed about next week and she hoped the education department was able to provide some clarity for them.
“We’re never going to be please everyone,” she said.
“It’s going to be a bumpy and challenging road. I mean, it’s really difficult, isn’t it? Most of our kids have lost so much time away from school over the past few years.
“I think everyone just wants them to return to a safe and positive environment.”
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