Students in New South Wales and Queensland will return to school on Monday as the states inches towards relaxing COVID-19 restrictions.
Students in NSW will return for one day of face-to-face learning per week from Monday, with attendance to increase over the course of the term.
The state government is working towards a target of a full-scale return by term three.
The Berejiklian government on Sunday announced the easing of a broad range of restrictions as the state continues to flatten the curve.
Victorian premier Daniel Andrews – who will on Monday announce changes to lockdown rules as a May 11 state of emergency expires – has yet to reveal when students in the state will return to school.
But the return to classroom teaching comes as education authorities in Queensland prepare to enforce a range of measures to reduce the spread of the coronavirus.
While primary school students will be free to use play equipment, gatherings of pupils may be limited by staggered lunch breaks and play time.
Students at Alexandria Park Community School in Sydney before the pandemic began. The return to face-to-face learning in New South Wales comes as schools across Australia consider introducing strict measures to combat the spread of COVID-19
The principal of Mango Hill primary school Tracy Egan told ABC News staff may even need to personally take children to their parents’ cars to stop transmission.
‘We’ll be really using our stop, drop and go lane and we expect our parents will strongly support that,’ Ms Egan said.
Hand sanitiser use will also be a priority in the classroom, as well as a ban at first on any events involving large congregations of students like assemblies.
Some schools are even planning to implement virus-proof protocols in their tuck shops and cafeteria – including an online-only order system.
The return to classrooms has come with a warning in NSW, with Premier Gladys Berejiklian promising any surge in numbers of confirmed cases could see a return to tighter measures.
‘If there is evidence or if there is data that shows … a huge spike, then we’ll have to go backwards,’ Berejiklian said.
‘But similarly, if the data shows us that we’re doing better than expected, we can move forward and be faster.’
The government has urged parents to be vigilant about their children’s health and to keep them away from school if they exhibit any symptoms of coronavirus.
Social distancing guidelines will be maintained in classrooms and extra health measures will be in place, including additional cleaning and health equipment in sick bays.
Lunch breaks will also be staggered.
Ms Berejiklian said it is not compulsory to send children to school and parents would not be penalised for keeping them at home.
‘It’s never been compulsory to force parents to do one thing or another, we’ve been very clear about that in New South Wales,’ she said.
‘But our strong recommendation is face-to-face teaching needs to start.
‘We want to get to full-time face-to-face teaching as soon as we can – and the best health advice is schools are safe environments.’
Children meanwhile enrolled in kindergarten, prep, and years one, 11 and 12 will be the first cohorts to return to school in Queensland.
The state government will assess the statewide response to the partial reopening of classrooms this Friday, before the go-ahead is given for those in other year levels.
It is proposed students between years two and 10 will return to school from May 25.
The staged approach is part of the Queensland government’s wider plan to reopen the state following the flattening of the coronavirus curve.
The NSW government on Sunday announced the winding back of restrictions from Friday, including allowing people to leave their homes for recreation.
The new relaxing of restrictions will allow up to five people to visit a home, including children.
Outdoor gatherings of up to 10 people will also be allowed, such as a physical training session or sitting down in a park.
Restaurants and cafes will also be allowed to have up to 10 patrons at a time, while ensuring they maintain social distancing of 1.5 metres between people and four square metres space per person.
A total of 10 guests will be allowed at weddings, and up to 20 people at indoor funerals and up to 30 at outdoor funerals.
Religious gatherings and places of worship can also welcome up to 10 worshippers.