'Four-week blitz' to safeguard NSW students, staff from Covid-19

NSW public schools will begin the new term under robust COVID-smart rules to make sure staff and students are best protected in the classroom.

NSW Education Secretary, Georgina Harrisson, said the additional measures followed a comprehensive and independent risk assessment, consideration of school operations, as well as feedback from staff, unions and other stakeholders.

“The settings are similar to last term, but we are being extra vigilant to get the term off to the best start – supporting our staff and students with extra supplies of rapid antigen tests and masks, and encouraging them to stay at home if unwell,” Harrisson said.

As part of a “four-week blitz” at the start of Term 3 some measures will be scaled up from today to ensure a strong start to the term:

Providing an increased supply of free RAT kits for symptomatic testing of staff and students, which will be sent home with students this week. More than 9 million RAT kits will be distributed during the first 3 weeks of Term 3 to replenish existing stocks in schools.

  • For all of Term 3, masks continue to be required for staff who interact with students at greater risk of serious illness if they contract COVID-19. Close contacts are still prohibited from attending SSPs and support classes.
  • Masks are strongly encouraged indoors for all members of staff and visitors to mainstream schools. All students will also be encouraged to wear masks. These will be provided in classrooms and additional supplies made available to schools – more than 10 million masks are in stock.
  • Boosting day cleaning at schools. This term, cleaners will increase their day clean while students and staff are onsite. Cleaners will continue to focus on high-touch areas and other hard surfaces, door handles, lockers, light switches and handrails in stairways and high movement areas.
  • Strong messaging about the importance staff and students not attending school or work when unwell even if it’s the mildest of symptoms, and to undertake and report any positive COVID test results to Service NSW which is an important step for vulnerable staff and/or students in establishing eligibility for anti-viral treatment.
  • Maximising natural ventilation in schools. Significant improvement works are continuing over winter 2022 to improve air quality and ventilation in schools.

Individual schools will also continue to be directed to temporarily adopt additional “circuit breaker” measures where there are increasing case numbers across multiple cohorts week-on-week and/or increasing case numbers in staff.

These additional measures may include:

  • Ceasing large indoor gatherings.
  • Ceasing off-site and inter-school activities.
  • Limiting visitors entering education sites.
  • Before and after hours enhanced cleaning..
  • Cohorts directed to learn from home for short periods if required.

Following consultation with staff, unions and other key stakeholders, the Department of Education will be removing the mandatory vaccination requirement for all staff, except for those working in or with Schools for Specific Purpose (SSPs), where students may be at greater risk of serious illness if they contract COVID-19.

“While vaccination against COVID-19 will no longer be mandated for most employees, the department strongly encourages staff to continue to keep their vaccination status up-to-date,” Harrisson said.

“The department will continue to provide vaccination leave to staff so they can receive a COVID-19 vaccination, including a booster shot.”

Over the coming weeks, the Department will manage the return of teachers who have been on alternate duties, or who wish to return to teaching if they were dismissed or resigned under the vaccine mandate.

Harrisson said the NSW Government was taking a common-sense approach to winter school settings after last term saw staff absences up 30 per cent due to COVID-19 and flu illnesses.

This article originally appeared as a media release from the NSW Department of Education.