Queensland schools are facing critical staff shortages amid rising COVID-19 cases in students and staff, as some reinstate mask-wearing restrictions.
- Independent Schools Queensland says a number of schools are facing staff shortages due to increasing COVID-19 cases or quarantine requirements for close contacts
- Fairholme College called for the definition of critical essential workers to be expanded to include non-teaching staff
- Some schools have reintroduced mask-wearing rules as community cases rise
It follows a 15 per cent increase in community COVID-19 cases in the past week and a 55 per cent increase among state school students last week.
Today there were 10,476 new cases across Queensland, up 18 per cent since yesterday’s 8,881 new cases.
Health Minister Yvette D’ath said a greater proportion of COVID-19 cases were being reported among children to 30-year-olds “because they’re more mobile in the community and, of course, they are passing this on to people”.
Growing numbers of independent schools are seeking advice on how to deal with rising case numbers from their peak body, Independent Schools Queensland (ISQ), as some struggle with staff shortages.
ISQ chief executive Chris Mountford said it would be help schools if the definition of a critically essential worker was expanded to include non-teaching staff with some schools “particularly challenged by staffing issues”.
Teachers are considered “critically essential workers”, enabling them to return to work if they do not have COVID-19 symptoms, test negative before they return to work and every second day, are fully vaccinated, wear a mask and physically distance from others.
Aides, non-teaching staff should be essential, school says
Fairholme College principal Linda Evans issued a statement saying the ability to safely staff schools became increasingly problematic as COVID-19 cases increased in school communities.
The statement said the school only invoked the critically essential worker rule for teachers as a “final backup” and called for teacher aides, boarding supervisors, and other non-teaching staff to be classified as critically essential workers.
“We appreciate that with the spread of COVID, the decision to expand the critically essential classification carries risk,” the statement read.
“Extending the critically essential classification is not about increasing risk to student safety, it’s actually the reverse.
“In a boarding school setting, particularly, the backup plan is one that is more likely to need to be played.”
Dr Evans said in the case of boarding students need to be cared for whether they have COVID-19 or not.
“Parents aren’t able to collect their child/ren quickly, boarders can’t catch public transport, or walk home.
Queensland Teachers’ Union president Cresta Richardson said some state schools in pockets were having high staff and student absences, so “there is increased pressure in schools”.
She said if it was needed, qualified teachers who were working in department regional offices should be redeployed to schools to help fill gaps.
“To alleviate some of the pressure, I know that some staff out of regional offices have gone out into schools to support them,” she said.
“Really, really looking at this while our schools are under a bit of pressure with COVID would also support them a little bit more.”
Independent Education Union Queensland and Northern Territory branch secretary Terry Burke said teacher aides and non-teaching staff should be considered critically essential workers.
Schools reintroduce mask-wearing restrictions
St Laurence’s College Principal Chris Leadbetter wrote to parents today informing them the school would reinstate mask-wearing in the interest of safety after increasing staff and student absences due to contracting COVID-19 or quarantine requirements.
“We ask that all staff, students and visitors wear masks when entering and leaving the site and when unable to socially distance,” the letter said.
Brisbane Girls Grammar School Principal Jacinda Euler yesterday told ABC Radio Brisbane the school had brought back masks with an average of 9 per cent of students and 3 per cent of teachers absent because of COVID-19 infection or quarantine everyday.
A Queensland Health spokesperson said a close contact has the highest risk of getting COVID-19.
“If an industry is not listed, employers can still request class or individual exemptions for their workers.
“This measured approach balances the safety of healthcare staff and the community while ensuring people can safely access care and services.”