Teachers over the age of 60 have been advised to avoid classrooms, Queensland’s chief health officer says, despite the decision by the State Government to keep schools open during the coronavirus pandemic.
- Queensland Education Minister says the department is continuing to follow the expert medical advice
- Staff in schools with medical conditions should be able to work from home where possible
- But the union says many teachers are worried about the health risks
The Queensland Teachers Union (QTU) said it was worried about the risk to vulnerable staff and flagged industrial action if state schools were not closed by Wednesday.
Queensland chief health officer Dr Jeannette Young advised teachers in the “at-risk” demographic should “not work in direct contact with groups of children”.
“For anyone who’s over the age of 60, with one or more chronic diseases such as high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease or lung disease, they should be concerned and they shouldn’t be coming into contact with large numbers of people whether they be children or anyone else,” Dr Young said.
The Queensland College of Teachers (QCT) said about 18,300 teachers across the state were over the age of 60.
QTU president Kevin Bates said Queensland schools were already seeing an increase in teachers in the “at-risk” age category not turning up to work.
“They are also going to their doctors and getting the advice that they should not be in the workplace,” he said.
Queensland Education Minister Grace Grace said the department was continuing to follow the expert medical advice and provide support to teachers with genuine health concerns.
Ms Grace says the department is continuing to follow the expert medical advice. (AAP Image: Glenn Hunt)
“We have also ensured that schools have the appropriate measures in place to keep teachers and staff safe, including introducing measures to ensure social distancing, like the cancellation of assemblies and staggered lunch breaks, as well as extended and additional cleaning,” Ms Grace said.
Queensland education department director-general Tony Cook provided advice to all principals on Monday that any staff in schools with medical conditions should be offered the opportunity to work from home where possible.
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“If normal duties cannot be undertaken, consideration should be given to alternative duties and/or professional development, planning and preparation activities, while working remotely,” Mr Cook wrote to Queensland state school principals.
Dr Young said those teachers needed “to come out of that classroom situation”.
“Our younger teachers — and we know we have a lot of them, because they’ve been coming through, graduating — they’re the ones who should be on the frontline,” Dr Young said.
Mr Cook said those teachers who were not considered vulnerable or sick were required to turn up to work.
‘Entirely confusing message’
The QTU said the discrepancy between states on school closures had “created chaos and confusion in our schools”.
The Queensland Government said despite Victoria and the ACT shutting down school’s from Tuesday on coronavirus health advice, classes in Queensland would continue until the end of term in a fortnight.
Mr Bates said that created “an entirely confusing message for members of the public”.
“We need urgent action by the employer to get vulnerable staff members out of our schools and working from home,” he said.
Mr Bates said many teachers were worried about the health risks, particularly because there was no clear position across the board.
“We do know that our workforce is significantly older than many,” he said.
“We need to be thinking about everybody’s health and safety, not just part of the community.”
Independent Schools Queensland executive director David Robertson said staff and student wellbeing had been at the forefront of decision making in independent schools.
“Making decisions and arrangements to protect, in particular staff and students most vulnerable to the coronavirus because of their health risk factors, whatever age they may be,” he said.
“Independent Schools Queensland will continue to share the latest official health and government advice with independent schools to ensure they can continue to act in the best interests of their staff, families and communities.”