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Calls for ventilation audits in SA classrooms to stop the spread of COVID

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Teachers are calling for ventilation audits and potentially smaller class sizes to better prepare South Australian schools for future COVID outbreaks.

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Their request comes as they will finally be given priority access to vaccinations without an appointment, after months of lobbying.

The Australian Education Union has written to Education Minister John Gardner seeking an urgent meeting about how to make schools safer once borders reopen and the virus creeps in.

“It is critically important that schools, preschools and TAFE are well prepared for potential future COVID-19 outbreaks,” AEU state president Lara Golding said in her letter.

The union wants ventilation audits of classrooms and buildings – like those conducted in New South Wales for the reopening of schools – as well as funding for necessary improvements to spaces and airflow.

“For example, we know there are many classrooms where the windows can’t be opened and other issues with air-conditioning,” Golding told InDaily.

“What people have found overseas and in Australia is that the spread of COVID can be reduced by having good ventilation which reduces the viral load in the air.

“So we think there needs to be an audit of all education sites to see what improvements needs to be made to ensure proper ventilation as one of the defences against the spread of COVID.”

The union is also seeking social distancing and room density audits – as well as extra funding for space improvements or reduced class sizes.

“Once the borders reopen then we need to be as well-prepared as we can be,” Golding said.

“The concern here is that there may be a time in South Australia where we may see community transmission of COVID. Should that occur we’ll need to consider other ways of reducing the spread.

“We know social distancing is a really important part of that. In other countries where there has been high levels of community transmission, there have been processes such as year levels coming on alternate days or reduced class sizes in order to ensure social distancing.”

The union also wants clear guidelines about ongoing mask use for staff and students.

Currently, high school students – and not primary – are required to wear masks.

Teachers don’t have to wear them during lessons but are asked to at other times while on school grounds.

Following months of lobbying from the union for educators to be given priority access to vaccines as frontline workers, the State Government today announced they will be able to walk in to SA Health’s main metro hubs without an appointment during the school holidays to get their shots.

The union welcomed the move but said priority access also needs to be made available to country teachers, who will only be eligible if they come to a major metro clinic.

“We’ve heard concerns from a number of our members in country areas who have been waiting for months in order to access an appointment,” Golding said.

“Particularly with the requirement to make that appointment out of school hours, it has made it more difficult to get the next available appointment.”

An Education Department spokesperson said “we are in conversation with relevant government agencies about ventilation standards and how they may apply in our schools and preschools”.

“It’s important we understand what the standards require before an audit is considered,” the spokesperson said.

“As throughout the pandemic, the department will continue to follow the advice of SA Health and AHPPC in relation to COVID Safe measures in education settings.

“We closely monitor the approaches taken by interstate colleagues and share information through national networks on COVID Safe measures, and we will continue to adapt our response to the pandemic as conditions evolve.

“While vaccinations are not currently mandatory, we strongly encourage all our staff and eligible students to get vaccinated as soon as they can.”

Chief public health officer Professor Nicola Spurrier said: “When we do have COVID in this state younger children cannot be vaccinated so it’s very important teachers take the opportunity to be vaccinated.”

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