Wagga MP Joe McGirr said the NSW government needs to consider delaying the start of the school term if adequate COVID-19 safety measures are not in place on day one.
Dr McGirr is concerned that the term is set to start just as the current Omicron wave is expected to peak and believes the community "need to be reassured that plans are in place" to minimise the spread of the virus in classrooms.
"There must be an adequate supply of rapid antigen tests and consideration needs to be given to issues such as adequate ventilation and mask wearing," he said.
"I am also concerned that, with vaccinations for children aged between five and 11 only just becoming available, vaccination rates may not be high enough by the time school is due to begin.
"The government may need to consider delaying the start of the school year by a week or two to make sure all of these measures are in place."
The national cabinet announced changes to isolation rules for teachers this week, yet there is still no word on what term one will look like for NSW schools.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced that as essential workers teachers will not be subject to close contact isolation rules.
He said that previous rules could have seen up to 10 per cent of Australia's workforce absent at any time, and if schools were to close, that could see a further 5 per cent of the workforce absent due to a lack of childcare options.
Amber Flohm, the senior vice president of the NSW Teachers Federation, said the prime minister's comments were "incredibly disrespectful of the profession" and that teachers are not a child-minding service, but expert and skilled professionals.
"We believe that putting staff, teachers, educators more broadly, at risk of further transmission in school communities is not supported by the teachers federation.
"And of course sending teachers back into schools when they are close contacts will only exacerbate the problem ... there will be more teachers sick potentially as a result."
Ms Flohm said that the union is working with the state government on the return plan and that "all options are on the table".
The union wants to see surveillance testing for teachers and students and they want to see masks made mandatory for teachers and students across all year groups.
Pam Smith, the acting secretary of the Independent Education Union, worries that teachers may feel pressured to come to work while potentially infectious.
Wagga Christian College principal Philip Wilson said that his staff are feeling a "combination of weariness and wariness" about the upcoming term and the likelihood that they will face COVID-19 in some form.
He said he is "not ecstatic" about the changes to close contact rules, but he remains practical about the challenges ahead. Mr Wilson has had plans in place for the last 17 months should his school face teacher shortages, such as flexible remote learning arrangements.
He also expects that the decision to close schools, or go back to remote learning, will become a "principal's call", and he believes the current rules are sufficient to allow him to keep his school open safely.
"Schools are the most effective place for most students," he said.
"I'll try to keep the school going for as long as possible, as safe as possible. We're looking at a range of innovative solutions to support that."
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