Queensland schools remain open amid coronavirus threat but enact their own social distancing

Mar 18, 2020

Yesterday, schools flagged social-distancing measures after the Queensland Government declined to opt for blanket school closures in response to the public health crisis.

While the State Government is still considering whether to extend Easter holidays, the steps to limit physical contact have changed the nature of schooling overnight.

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Coronavirus questions answered
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All Saints Anglican School on the Gold Coast has made the unilateral call to shut down and deliver classes online for the two weeks ahead of the holidays.

St Peter's Lutheran College in Indooroopilly on Brisbane's west has closed the school for students in prep to Year 10 from today until Wednesday.

Teachers will spend the two days in online classroom training in the event they are forced to shut down.

Year 11 and 12 students will still attend for exams.

At other schools, assemblies, ceremonies and excursions have been cancelled, while inter-school sports and parent-teacher interviews have been postponed.

Fetes, fairs and concerts face cancellations under the federal ban on mass gatherings of more than 500 people.

Children are being kept in classrooms to eat meals with ready access to hand sanitiser or soap and are being given extra time outdoors in fresh air to make up for it.

Lunch breaks and play periods are being staggered to minimise student contact, and schools say they are hammering home the importance of regular hand washing.

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Students at All Hallows School in central Brisbane have been urged to keep 1.5 metres away from others and "avoid kissing, hugging, shaking hands and contact with others where possible".

Amid different moves internationally on whether to close schools altogether, there are signs some families have taken matters into their own hands.

Indooroopilly State School in Brisbane's west emailed parents on Monday, saying: "Many parents are choosing to self-isolate now."

The school attached basic learning materials for parents to use with children at home, with the caveat that "we cannot directly replicate the school learning environment".

"More formalised learning resources will be provided if or when the school closes."

Closing schools has 'ramifications'

Virologist Kirsten Spann, from Queensland University of Technology, said schools were "doing everything they can bar closing" which was "exactly right".

"I think the balance here is trying to do something whilst not actually shutting down … because that has so many more ramifications than just clinical spreads," she said.

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"Particularly when you're Year 12, students trying to do ATAR — what do you do with them? That's a massive year for this kind of disruption."

But Professor Spann said 2 metres — the common distance between hospital beds — might be a more appropriate personal safety buffer than 1.5 metres, in light of previous research on SARS infections.

Education Minister Grace Grace said Queensland state schools would remain open on the advice of Australia's chief medical officer, Brendan Murphy.

"If there is a need to close individual schools these decisions will be made quickly, based on further advice form health experts and parents will be quickly informed," she said.

Ms Grace said the Department of Education relayed advice from health experts to principals on Sunday about large gatherings and social distancing.

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"It is great to see principals putting that advice into tailored actions that will work for their specific school communities," she said.

"Plans for continuity of learning and teaching are essential and principals will continue preparation in this regard."

In an email on Sunday, All Hallows also urged students to "avoid visiting vulnerable people, such as those in aged care facilities or hospitals, infants" or those with low immunity from illness.

"There are challenges ahead for our school, our state, our country and our world that are unprecedented," principal Catherine O'Kane said in the email.


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