‘Butt out’: PM faces intense backlash
The head of a major teaching union has told the Prime Minister to "butt out" of the debate over whether kids should go back to school after Scott Morrison said the education of the nation's children was "hanging in the balance" while they remained at home.
Last night on Facebook, Scott Morrison waded into the issue of schools. He said teachers should return to classrooms and join the "great heroes" of Australia including cleaners, supermarket workers, nurses and paramedics who are fighting COVID-19 simply by doing their jobs.
His comments came as schools reopened in Victoria but Premier Daniel Andrews encouraged students not to physically attend and instead stay at home and learn online.
Schools have become a major area of debate during the coronavirus outbreak. A number of experts have said that children are not thought to major transmitters of COVID-19 or suffer greatly from it if they become infected.
However, the role children play in the spread of coronavirus is still being examined and there has been concern some teachers could go on strike if they are forced back into the classroom with kids. It's one of the key reasons schools were closed in the first place.
Mr Morrison warned the education of the nation's children was "hanging in the balance" as he urged principals and teachers' unions to hold talks on how classrooms could be made safe.
"During these times, many students will continue distance learning. But we know for some families and students this won't be possible. And their education, what they learn, is at great risk of suffering this year.
"This will particularly be the case for families who are disadvantaged and on lower incomes."
But talking to Channel 9's Today Show this morning the President of the Queensland Teachers Union Kevin Bates said the PM's comments were in "complete contradiction" to the states.
"Two states have announced very clear arrangements for schools when they start back - Victoria today and Queensland next week - and suddenly the Prime Minister turns all of that on its head and sends a message out to the community that's in complete contradiction to what the premiers have said to their people."
Host Karl Stefanovic said there was "mixed messaging" coming from the PM and the states.
"My worry is it puts teachers in such an awful spot. It almost guilts them into going back to work," Stefanovic said during the interview.
Mr Bates replied that the state governments had "struck the right balance" of allowing the children of essential workers to go to school while others remained at home.
"Our young people will not suffer from a short period of hiatus around their learning (and) we've been working with the state government so our teachers will be doing their bit to make sure that learning continues."
Mr Bates had a stark message for Mr Morrison.
"I think the Prime Minister has made a blunder. Butt out."
CHOOSE BETWEEN FOOD AND EDUCATING KIDS
The Prime Minister has been insistent that the medical advice maintains it is safe for schools to remain open.
In the Northern Territory students are being urged to return to school as normal for term two.
But the nation's capital, Canberra, has proposed the most extreme restrictions and closed down the majority of schools. This has forced parents to drive to hubs where their children will be supervised outside of school hours by childcare workers they have never met. There will be no instruction from teachers and students will simply be supervised to do the same online learning they would do at home.
In South Australia, where social distancing measures are less restrictive and the school attendance rate is much higher than in the eastern states, students will be given the option to return to normal classes if they wish.
All the teachers I know are committed to their work and their students, it’s not their decision about whether schools open or not. It’d be very good if our political leaders could get one message on schools and stop confusing parents. https://t.co/L2gf871gzb— Darcy Byrne (@MayorDarcy) April 15, 2020
It’s safe for schools to open but not for parliament to resume. Makes sense.— Peter van Onselen (@vanOnselenP) April 14, 2020
Dear PM:— Melissa Loy (@MsLoysMusings) April 14, 2020
Teachers have our own families that we need to be there for too. Please trust that we will not abandon our students who need the physical safety and security that school offers. But in order to do both, we need to know the government is there for us and our safety too.
Mr Morrison said disadvantaged kids had the most to lose from the school shutdowns.
"It is even more essential for those vulnerable students who we know won't get an education at home. It's a sad reality, but we know it's true and we need to face it.
"We cannot allow a situation where parents are forced to choose between putting food on the table through their employment, to support their kids and their kids' education."
The PM conceded teachers had legitimate concerns about their health.
"Returning to a classroom may not be possible or safe for those teachers. We get that," he said.
"Our nation is very grateful for the work that you're doing as our teachers, and we need you more than ever. So, let's keep working together to ensure that we can be there for our kids, to keep them healthy, keep them safe, but to keep them learning."
The Prime Minister told Sky News that distance learning was no substitute for face-to-face classes.
State premiers have agreed with the PM that schools should remain open for vulnerable children or those of parents who were essential workers. There has also been some effort on the part of premiers to back the PM.
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said she backed the announcement to keep schools open.
"There was support for that position," she said. "I took that position at the previous national cabinet. Schools are open and they are open for students of essential workers and vulnerable people."
However, there is still some difference in views on which parents should be sending their kids back to school. Victorian Premier Andrews has said his view of an essential worker was more limited than the Prime Minister's.
"Many of us when we think about the word 'essential worker' might have a very narrow frame when it came to that. I put it to you that people who are stacking shelves, running checkouts, driving trucks, public transport, cleaning hospitals, all the way through to critical care, are critical roles and we're thankful for the work they're doing.
"Some of them will not be able to have their kids at home. They'll need to send them to school."
Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan said the messaging about schools had been "very consistent" across Australia.
"There are obviously different approaches within that in different jurisdictions and states and territories ultimately have the final decision with what happens with their schools.
"But the clear message is for all those parents who are working, and that can't look after their children safely at home, schools are open and your students can attend school.
Originally published as 'Butt out': PM faces intense backlash