Students in New South Wales (NSW) will be allowed back in the classroom one week earlier than expected.
The staggered return of students will begin on Oct. 18 with Kindergarten, Year 1, and Year 12 students.
Year 2, 6, and 11 students return on Oct. 25 followed by the remaining year levels on Nov. 1.
Areas of regional NSW where stay-at-home orders have already lifted will commence face-to-face learning from the first day of Term four, Oct. 5.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said the state’s return-to-school plan had always been tied to community vaccination rates, which have risen faster than expected.
“Managing a return in a school system the size of NSW’s is not a small task,” Berejiklian said. “Keeping the staged approach, but moving it all one week earlier, allows schools to shift their plans forward and still provides time for staff and eligible students to get vaccinated.”
NSW Education Minister Sarah Mitchell said it was worth having an extra week of face-to-face in a safe and sensible way.
“It’s fantastic that we will meet vaccination targets in NSW earlier than originally anticipated,” Mitchell said. “This has allowed us to shift the plan forward for all schools across impacted areas.”
“I know there remain some concerns in the community around a return to school, but students, staff and parents should feel confident that this approach allows enough time to make schools as COVIDSafe as possible,” Mitchell said.
All teachers must be vaccinated for COVID-19 before they are allowed back in classrooms, with the deadline for the second dose on Nov. 8, unless they have a medical exception.
The vaccine mandate has been met with considerable opposition after almost 60,000 people signed a petition within a week calling for teachers not to be forced to take COVID-19 vaccinations.
The Independent Education Union (IEU), which represents teachers and staff in non-government schools, said they were extremely frustrated at the lack of consultation prior to making the decision, and preferred to stick to the original schedule.
“The IEU considers this current staged plan of returning students and their teachers to school to be the safest option,” IEU NSW acting secretary Carol Matthews said. “It enables schools to make adjustments to premises and processes as the necessity becomes apparent.”