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  • Writer's pictureJack Ward

Schools equipped with COVID arsenal

Published in The Ararat Advocate, Ararat's weekly newspaper published by West Vic News Pty Ltd.

SCHOOLS will return next week equipped with new COVID-19 practices to help avoid more school closures in 2022.

Ararat principals are optimistic about the year ahead thanks to the state government’s new measures to minimise the disruption to learning, however, they admit it is hard to predict the impact isolation requirements will have on staffing.

PHOTO: Ararat College principal, Ellie McDougall, is hopeful new air purification devices and RATs will help prevent disruptions this year. (Jack Ward/Ararat Advocate)

Ararat 800 Primary School principal, Ryan Oliver, said his school has received eleven of the state’s 51,000 air purification devices ordered last year.

“They're in our classrooms that have the worst ventilation and specialist rooms because they'll have the highest amount of crossover traffic throughout the week,” he said.

“They're very quiet machines. Quite large but they seem inconspicuous in the appropriate places in the classroom. And at the end of the day, if it's an added sense of security for our children, then it's worth it.”

Ararat College has received 31 devices but principal, Ellie McDougall, said the school has increased that number by purchasing more themselves.

“It made sense for us to get additional protection with small units for the smaller areas as well. We want to protect our staff and students as much as possible,” she said.

As of Tuesday, Ararat schools were yet to receive their rapid antigen tests following Premier Daniel Andrew’s Sunday announcement.

The Government is delivering more than 14 million RATs to schools and early childhood education, 6.6 million of which are promised next week.

The surveillance testing is strongly encouraged for all primary and secondary school students and staff, and early childhood education and care staff, twice weekly at home before school or childcare.

Mrs McDougall said while she is unsure of their arrival date, the tests are a welcomed asset to reduce the virus spread and associated anxiety.

“Any plan to keep students safe and to keep them in the classroom, is excellent as far as we're concerned,” she said.

School and early childhood staff are also required to get a third vaccination dose by Jan 25, or within three months and two weeks of receiving their second dose.

Both principals highlighted a possible workforce shortage being the most unpredictable hurdle moving forward.

Mrs McDougall said education, like all workforces, will see impacts and it’s going to be up to schools to try and manage that.

“We've got staffing vacancies advertised at the minute. It could be something difficult that we will have to manage but from experience, I have no doubt we can deal with it,” she said.

“We'll work closely with the Department, and we always get great support from the Central Highlands area team when we need it.”

The Government has launched a pool of inactive teachers, education support staff, retired principals, and surge administration staff for schools to access to cover any COVID-19 related work force shortages.

Mask wearing will be in place for students in Grade 3 and above when inside and the Government says remote learning will only be considered as a localised, short-term last resort if staffing becomes an issue.

“I think we're very well placed to tackle any further challenges that come our way this year,” Mr Oliver said.

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