Covid-19, Omicron: Everything you need to know about NSW schools reopening


Schools in NSW will no longer close when a Covid case is detected and parents have been warned not to let their kids have sleepovers, as thousands of children prepare to go back to the classroom.

Premier Dominic Perrottet made the announcement at a press conference on Sunday morning, and confirmed that teachers and pupils will be given two free rapid antigen tests every week.

Face masks will also be made mandatory for all teachers and high school students, with more than eight million surgical masks being delivered to schools.

Masks will not be mandatory for primary school children, but Mr Perrottet said they are ‘highly recommended’ for children above Year 3. 

The massive surveillance testing program is the linchpin of the premier’s ‘Covid-smart’ plan, as the state recorded 20,324 infections and 34 deaths on Sunday. 

The state government hopes to have delivered more than six million RATs to 3,000 public, private and religious schools across NSW by January 26. Pictured: Students walking to school

NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet said face masks will be made mandatory for all teachers and high school students. Pictured: A student wearing a face mask at Fairvale High School

NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet said face masks will be made mandatory for all teachers and high school students. Pictured: A student wearing a face mask at Fairvale High School

Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant urged parents not to send their children to school if they have any symptoms.

‘While the community cases are high, we expect to see that schools mirror what is occurring in the community,’ she said.

‘We will expect to see cases among children and staff attending schools.’

She also encouraged parents to ‘try and minimise’ their kids’ activities, or connections with other children and sleepovers and other activities that might drive infection’.

Director of the National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance  Professor Christine McCartney said children with Covid may not present any symptoms.

‘If your child is infected with Covid you can expect they will either have no symptoms, you may not actually know, or they will have mild symptoms, with a blocked nose, fever, maybe a little cost,’ she said.

‘That will resolve completely with a few days of extra care, fluids, rest and Panadol.’

She also said that of 17,500 cases last year, only three out of every 100 children went to hospital with the virus – but two-thirds of those were because parents were infected with Covid and were not able to look after their children at home.

Other measures include vaccine mandates for all teachers and staff as sport, music, assemblies and even school camping trips are given the green light to go ahead.

The massive surveillance testing program is the linchpin of Dominic Perrottet's 'Covid-smart' back-to-school plan (pictured: Firbank Grammar student receives a COVID-19 Rapid Antigen test)

The massive surveillance testing program is the linchpin of Dominic Perrottet’s ‘Covid-smart’ back-to-school plan (pictured: Firbank Grammar student receives a COVID-19 Rapid Antigen test)

The state government hopes to have delivered more than six million RATs to 3,000 public, private and religious schools across NSW by January 26 – even as the rest of Australia faces a supply shortage.

Education Minister Sarah Mitchell said: ‘We’ve had more than four million go out already, more than 6 million will be out by Tuesday evening, in preparation for the return to school for students on the 1 February.’ 

Trucks have been on the road 24-hours a day during the past week so schools can prepare to hand out the at-home testing kits to parents before the end of the school holidays.

The non-mandatory testing program is set to run for the first four weeks of first term before the regime is reviewed and resupplied.

Ms Mitchell also said that parents who have a child starting their very first day of kindergarten will be allowed to attend.

‘It is a significant day in your child’s life that we want to make it as normal as possible for you,’ she said. 

Teachers and children at day care centres will also be offered RAT kits for twice-weekly testing. 

Mr Perrotett said the plan will allow children to enjoy their schooling safely, ‘in a Covid smart way’.

‘Students learn best at school and this plan is designed to make that happen from the first day of term,’ the Premier said.

Parents will be able to get their hands on their children’s RAT kits before classes commence but there is no requirement for kids to be tested before they go back.

Premier Dominic Perrottet (pictured) revealed his  long-awaited back-to-school plan which will also see face masks made mandatory for teachers and high school students but primary school children will not be required to wear them.

Premier Dominic Perrottet (pictured) revealed his  long-awaited back-to-school plan which will also see face masks made mandatory for teachers and high school students but primary school children will not be required to wear them.

Schools in the next few days will begin contacting parents about how they pick up their free tests. 

Craig Petersen, Council president or NSW Secondary Principals’ Council president said, each school will come up with their own plan to distribute tests to parents with pick-up times likely to be spread throughout this week.

‘I would be surprised if everyone follows the same model; it will have to be localised to the context of the school, so parents will have to be paying attention to their school,’ he said.

But parents have been warned many schools may not get their RATs until later on in the week.

Families have the choice of which days and times their child takes the at-home swab with no requirements to register the results.

There is also no penalty for parents who have not picked up their RATs from the school.

The bare minimum standard required for RAT kits to be sold in Australia is 80 per cent clinical sensitivity (pictured, a RAT test in use)

The bare minimum standard required for RAT kits to be sold in Australia is 80 per cent clinical sensitivity (pictured, a RAT test in use)

Education Minister Sarah Mitchell previously said the plan will allow children’s lives to return to some normality but admitted there will be significant challenges in the year ahead. 

‘Activities students love, such as music, school sport and assemblies, will continue with settings in place similar to late last year,’ she said.

‘We’re still not back to normal and the start to the year will have its challenges, however these settings are a smart and safe start to the year,’ she said.

Other elements of the program include mandatory face masks and vaccinations for all teachers and other school staff.

A limited number of visitors will be allowed on school grounds at any given time, with just two parents per classroom the new rule for kindergarten orientation.

The NSW government is also in the midst of installing thousands of air purifiers to improve ventilation in classrooms.

The NSW government is also in the midst of installing thousands of air purifiers to improve ventilation in classrooms

But NSW Teachers Federation President Angelo Gavrielatos said there are still significant risks for teachers and students during the ongoing Omicron outbreak and that ‘nowhere is safe’. 

‘We clearly remain concerned for the health and safety of our students and their families and there’s good reason for it,’ he told the Daily Telegraph.

‘How many other jobs ­require you to be on a worksite with literally hundreds of people, in some instances up to 2000, stuck in restricted, often poorly ventilated classrooms with up to 30 people?

‘We will be closely monitoring the impact of the risk mitigation strategies with a view to reviewing and seeking urgent adjustments necessary to ensure the greatest amount of protection can be offered to our students and staff.’

NSW BACK-TO-SCHOOL PLAN 

All students from kindergarten to Year 12 will be tested for Covid twice a week using free RAT kits handed out by their school before February 1.

Parents will be able to arrange a time to pick up the at-home tests once they are contacted by their child’s school.

Teachers and children at day care centres will also be offered RAT kits for twice-weekly testing.

Face masks are mandatory for all teachers and staff who must also be fully-vaccinated.

High school students will be required to wear face masks.

Primary school students will not be made to wear face coverings.

Sport, music, assemblies and even school camping trips will be allowed to continue under the plan.

Schools will be required to carry out an improved cleaning regime.

Some schools will be fitted with upgraded ventilation systems. 



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