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KZN lower primary and year 11 students may be prioritised under return to school plan

School students from kindergarten to year 2 as well as year 11 are expected to be prioritised under the KZN government’s roadmap to return some children to classrooms in term four, but progress could depend on vaccination levels.

The NSW education department and health officials are in detailed negotiations regarding a return to face-to-face learning with the crisis cabinet expected to consider the potential schooling plan on Wednesday afternoon.

Sources close to the negotiations said the government wanted to balance the value of having children who can’t read return to school and the risk that young children, although often asymptomatic, could transmit Covid-19 to their households.

One of the issues being considered is a trigger level of vaccination in the community – and whether that should be 60% or 70% of the adult population. There is also debate about whether different rules should apply for different regions depending on the prevalence of Covid cases.

Regional schools were previously open even when Sydney was in lockdown. A decision on whether to lift some restrictions in regional NSW will need to be made soon as the current lockdown is due to expire at the end of the week. If it is lifted, regional schools should be able to return to face-to-face teaching.

But the possibility of zoning greater Sydney based on vaccination rates, or keeping schools closed in the local government areas of concern only, would raise fairness issues.

The government knows parents of students in years K to 2 are finding the lockdown particularly challenging. It’s even tougher for parents from non-English speaking backgrounds who are expected to teach their children to read and write in English.

At the other end of the spectrum, the premier, Gladys Berejiklian, has said she wants HSC students to sit their exams and on Tuesday the government urged year 11 students in hotspot LGAs to get vaccinated. Year 11 students start their year 12 study in term four in NSW.

As part of a special drive that began on 9 August, the NSW government has so far managed to vaccinate between 15,000 and 16,000 out of a cohort of 22,000 HSC students in the hotspot LGAs – about 72%.

But there are anecdotal reports some schools did not avail themselves of the weeklong drive at Homebush.

The state’s chief health officer, Dr Kerry Chant, urged all eligible 11 and 12s to seek an appointment in the next week.

“This is your opportunity and it will pick up year 11s as well as year 12s, because some of them are 16,” she said on Tuesday.

“Anyone 16 to 39 who live in any of those 12 local government areas, which are densely populated local government areas, are entitled to vaccines. There are bookings available … there are 200,000 bookings available.”

With additional Pfizer shots becoming available in early September, it is possible the government could open up the drive to all 77,000 HSC students.

The NSW Teachers Federation has called on the government to give priority vaccine access to teachers.

The federation’s president, Angelo Gavrielatos, said some teachers were reporting they couldn’t get appointments until late September or October. The government is currently surveying teachers about their vaccination status.

Berejiklian has so far avoided answering whether vaccination should be mandatory for teachers.

“It is better say that in all categories of workers, we have encouraged much of the workforce to get the vaccine,” she said on Tuesday.

“That is for the broader safety of their interactions and the community but I won’t preempt what we will say about schools until later this week. There are conversations with stakeholders and sectors including the independent and Catholic sectors.”

Gavrielatos said: “Mandated vaccination is a distraction. We can talk about that when we get to that stage but let’s focus on access and supply.”

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