Every student and teacher in NSW schools will receive rapid antigen test (RAT) kits before school returns on February 1, Premier Dominic Perrottet has announced.
The announcement comes after Prime Minister Scott Morrison revealed that plans for returning to face-to-face schooling would be outlined by each state and territory leader, as no consensus was reached via the National Cabinet.
The announcement follows a National Cabinet meeting on Thursday to form a cohesive national plan for getting staff and students back into classrooms safely and on time.
Under the NSW Government’s ‘COVID-Smart Plan’, mask wearing for all staff and high school students with be mandatory, with masks also encouraged for children in primary schools.
The government has also mandated twice-a-week surveillance testing for primary and high school students, school staff and early childhood staff, while surveillance testing will be undertaken for the first four weeks of term.
In the 12- to 15-year-old age group, more than 80% of children have had their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and 78% are double-dosed. In the 5- to 11-year-old age group, more than 24% of children have had their first dose.
“New COVID-smart measures will help make this happen, including surveillance testing both students and staff twice weekly with RATs,” Premier Perrottet said, adding that families will be notified by their schools on how and when to collect the RAT kits for their children.
“What is most important about this approach is that it allows students to enjoy all aspects of their schooling in a safe and sensible way.”
In the rollout of its plan, the NSW Government is currently distributing more than 12 million RATs to more than 3,150 government, non-government schools and early childhood centres to assist with surveillance testing of staff and students.
The NSW Government has been working with its Victorian counterparts to create plans to ensure the safe and timely return of students to the classroom. Education Minister Sarah Mitchell said this has meant that activities such as music, school sport and assemblies, will continue with settings in place similar to late last year.
There are also staffing contingencies in place to tackle the shortage of available teachers in classrooms. Last week, the government said it would hire retired and studying teachers to help fill staffing shortages across the state.
“School communities should feel confident about returning for Term 1 under these arrangements, which allow a wide range of activities to proceed with appropriate risk assessment and planning,” Association of Independent Schools of NSW chief executive Dr Geoff Newcombe
The state’s Catholic schools also welcomed the plan, with Catholic Schools NSW chief executive officer Dallas McInerney saying it was “imperative” that students are able to return to school in a safe way.
“We need to keep our students, teachers and families safe and also provide stability,” McInerney said.
“We know that our kids learn best when they’re in the classroom with their teacher and peers.”