Wrung out, spun out – just give us the facts on the back to school plan

A press release from Premier Gladys Berejiklian’s office announced the good news. “All students to return to school in term 4,” the headline read, bringing joy to the hearts of children who believed they would soon be able to run around with their friends, see their teacher and return to some kind of normality.

But the headline wasn’t true. Not all students will be back at school when the staggered start begins on October 25, and some – several hundred thousand, perhaps, in Sydney’s hardest-hit local government areas – may not go back at all this year.

There are two conditions that will have to be met in order for schools to resume face-to-face teaching and to remain open once they do. Across the state, 70 per cent of adults must have had a double dose of vaccine and the rate of community transmission in the local government area a school is in must not be higher than about 50 per 100,000 cases a fortnight.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian says the NSW outbreak’s relatively low hospitalisation rates gives the government heart lockdown is working.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian says the NSW outbreak’s relatively low hospitalisation rates gives the government heart lockdown is working.Credit:James Brickwood

On present case numbers, most council areas would be able to meet that threshold. About 12 of them – Sydney’s areas of concern – would not. They include Blacktown, which is home to 122 schools that teach almost 67,000 students, and Canterbury Bankstown, which has 111 schools teaching almost 55,000 students. In all, schools in those LGAs teach hundreds of thousands of students.

During her media conference, Berejiklian would not be drawn on the possibility that some schools would not reopen. “It would be unfair to families and unfair to communities to make definitive statements where October 25 is still some weeks away,” she said.

But it’s just as unfair to get their hopes up when the likelihood of going back to school for a significant swathe of Sydney is actually slim. Eight weeks before the reopening might be a long time, but we’ve been in lockdown under ever-tighter restrictions for two months now, and the numbers have only been going in one direction.

The delay to the HSC also created confusion and pleas for the government to be straight with students. The rules have changed constantly for year 12 – they were told they’d all be back at school by August 16, then that was revoked – and many are angry that the announcement was not accompanied by the new HSC timetable, which is likely to cancel some exams.

The government deserves congratulations on trying to get students back to school. But it needs to stop the spin and give us facts. There’s been too much confusion, too many about-faces, and way too much disappointment.

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