McGowan Government must take steps to close WA schools

Greens spokesperson for Education Hon Alison Xamon MLC has backed the State School Teachers Union of WA, calling on the WA Government to take immediate action to close WA public schools to the majority of students.

Hon Xamon said it was not known how many students already had COVID-19 – or what the overall rate of infection was, because testing regimes continued to exclude those not showing symptoms.

Particularly in the absence of the capacity to mass test she said closing schools immediately to as many students as possible was crucial, as young people may only have mild symptoms or be asymptomatic carriers.

“International data suggests that closing schools immediately is the prudent action to take,” Hon Xamon said.

“Not taking decisive action on this and delaying what is likely inevitable is causing a great deal of angst for parents, who should not be left to make the decision alone as to whether or not to send their children to school.”

Hon Xamon said WA should take the lead from countries following best practice like New Zealand and Norway.

She pointed out that many private schools had already made the transition to on-line ensuring that private school students were ensured of continuity of their education whilst public school students remained in limbo.

“I acknowledge that this is a difficult situation for the Government, but ensuring that vulnerable people – students, teachers, staff and vulnerable family members back at home – are protected should be the most important consideration right now,” Hon Xamon said.   

Hon Xamon pointed out that the private schools were still open for those students of workers who could not leave them at home, and this could also apply in public schools - special provision could also be made for those small numbers of students in CARE schools and where families did not have computer or internet facilities at home.  

“The community should be protected by reducing the number of students and staff in schools as much as possible - and if proper planning and support is provided to our teachers, this can be done while still ensuring continuity of education.”

“Ordinarily there are a significant number of students for whom remote or distance learning is the norm, SIDE have considerable expertise and the quality of teaching ordinarily available for many WA students who undertake education outside of a school setting is superb.  It isn’t the case that it is automatically sub-standard.  The expertise is there.

She said it was unrealistic to expect teachers and staff to follow social-distancing rules without dramatically reducing the numbers of students, particularly for those working in education support.

“At the very least, vulnerable teachers and other staff should be able to take immediate leave.”  

Two primary school aged children, lying on the floor on their bellies, using a laptop each