Australia

No masks for schoolkids as parents sweat on home schooling decision

Victorian school children will not have to wear masks when they return to classrooms but most are still waiting to hear when that will happen after the state government insisted it was yet to make a call on home learning.

Students in year 11 and 12 will return to school on Monday while teachers for other year levels will have a week of pupil-free days after the holidays were extended.

Premier Daniel Andrews said a decision had not yet been made on what would happen with schooling for the more junior years.

"We've tried to give parents and school communities as much notice as possible and further is to be done to settle our position," he said.

"I want to reassure all parents with students in those year levels and settings there will be temperature checking, there will be all sorts of different processes and protocols, strengthening, building on the great work that our schools did at the back end of the last term.

"There will be options for more distance, because we have less than a full school. We have only a small number in the overall number of students attending each school."

Mr Andrews said that any child presenting with a fever would be sent home.

The government thought it was both important and low-risk to have year 11 and 12 students back at school, he said.

"We don't want two VCEs, one from metro Melbourne were there were longer shutdowns than regional and vice versa," he said.

Mr Andrews said parents who chose not to send their kids to school would not be penalised.

Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton acknowledged there were risks with schools as demonstrated with the Al-Taqwa College outbreak which was now the state's largest.

"Certainly the Al-Taqua outbreak had a lot of school-aged children. Our biggest cluster. The risks were in school and out of school. And the physical distancing at school wasn't ideal. I'm absolutely mindful of the risk with kids in school."

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Professor Sutton said as year 11 and 12 students returned to school, it would be important to exclude unwell children, to ensure children were temperature tested and, if feasible, students should try to social distance within the classroom.

"I think it's a challenge in any school. It's a very big school, Al-Taqwa. I think it became a particular challenge in that setting as well."

Professor Sutton said children would not be required to wear a mask when school returned on Monday.

"They won't be asked to wear a mask. We know it's tricky in a school. Younger children are much less likely to transmit [and] they tend not to wear them as well," he said.

"They're obviously engaged in lots of conversation, but we won't stop kids from wearing them if they individually choose to."

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