Coronavirus: FAQs for schools

Updated 25 May 2020

The advice below applies to teacher, paraprofessional, education support staff, assistant principals and principal members who are employees of the teaching service.

We will update these FAQs as the situation regarding coronavirus changes and advise members through bulletins.

When will students and staff return to public schools in 2020?

Staff will return to Victorian public schools from Monday 25 May, which is a pupil-free day.

From Tuesday 26 May, all Prep, Year 1 and Year 2 students, specialist school students, as well as VCE and VCAL students will return to on-site learning.  

Vulnerable students in Years 3 to 10, and children in those years whose parents or carers cannot work from home, can continue to attend school on-site as needed during this period.

Students in the broader Year 3 to 10 cohort will continue to learn remotely until Tuesday 9 June, to give the Victorian government and the Chief Health Officer time to monitor and evaluate the effects that the return to school by other year levels has on the increased movement of people and transmission within the community.

What happens to my own children when I return to school?

Children Years 3 to 10 whose parents or carers cannot work from home, can continue to attend school on-site as needed in the period from 25 May – 8 June.

This includes the children of teachers, principals and support staff who are working on-site.

How will high-risk staff be supported? 

Staff will be granted an exception, and can continue to work from home, if they fall into one of the following categories:

  • staff aged 70 or over
  • staff aged 65 or over with a chronic medical condition
  • staff of any age with compromised immunity
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff aged over 50 who have a medical condition.

I am pregnant, am I expected to work on site?

Pregnant employees are not included in the list of vulnerable employees, as defined by the Chief Health Officer. However, under the Victorian Government Schools Agreement and section 81 of the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth), a pregnant employee is entitled to transfer to an ‘appropriate safe job’ if they have evidence (usually a medical certificate from their treating doctor) that it is inadvisable for them to continue in their present position for a period of time because of “illness, or risks, arising out of [their] pregnancy; or hazards connected with that position”.

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Pregnant employees should seek advice from your treating doctor if you consider that there may be a risk or hazard to yourself upon resumption of work on-site at your school. If your doctor considers you to be fit to perform work but cannot do so safely on-site at a school, then you should make a request to your principal to work in an appropriate safe job, i.e. remotely, such as at home. If your request is denied, you may be entitled to “no safe job leave”.

If the provision of suitable duties that can be performed remotely is not practicable, the employee may elect - or the employer may require the employee - to be absent on leave (without deduction from any other leave credits) for such period as is certified necessary by a registered medical practitioner. Where this occurs, schools should advise the Policy and Employee Relations Branch at [email protected], who will arrange for the leave to be processed centrally.

Can I be tested for novel coronavirus (COVID-19)?

Yes. All Victorian school staff will be prioritised for voluntary coronavirus testing for a two-week period from both mobile and fixed testing sites, starting Tuesday 12 May 2020. 

This will enable school staff to seek testing during the preparation period before the return to on-site schooling.

How should social distancing operate in schools?

It is essential that the broader community requirements are adhered to in relation to social distancing and hygiene. This is vital for our ability to try and limit the growing numbers of coronavirus infections and ensure our health system is able to cope.

Schools will be encouraged to implement a staggered drop-off system to reduce the number of adults congregating outside the school at any one time, as well as staggered break times to manage the number of students mixing across year levels. Schools will also implement social distancing measures for all adults.

How will assessment and reporting work in Semester 1?

Schools must report on the curriculum taught in Semester 1, including “a succinct descriptive assessment of student learning achievement” against the standards for that curriculum and a comment on the student’s adjustment to remote learning.

The AEU has clearly asserted to DET our expectation that schools must ensure that student reports briefly address student progress to date. Extended descriptive reports are not required and, if they were expected by some schools, would put further pressure on members.  

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In regards to A-E reporting, DET have made it clear this is optional and not a requirement. The AEU advises that schools should not require teachers to undertake A-E reporting.

Given the disruption to normal classroom learning late last term and in Term 2, it will be extremely difficult for teachers to accurately make assessments on student progress. Exercising your professional judgement in assessing student progress requires assessment information which is currently not sufficiently available. 

Any relevant assessment information a teacher currently has can be held over and used with more comprehensive information to inform a teacher’s judgement of student progress at the end of the year.

How will the PDP process be different?

DET have made changes to the PDP process which means every individual member has a choice about whether to complete their existing PDP or change to a more straightforward and simplified plan best suited to the current circumstances. No member can be compelled to continue their current plan.
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The new plan is in the form of a ‘statement of expectation’  (DET login required) common to all staff and covering the key areas of teaching and learning, use of resources, and collaboration. There is a default assumption that those who adopt the statement of expectation will meet the requirements it outlines, and on this basis, members will not be required to collect evidence.

If a reviewer has concerns about a staff member not meeting the expectations, the staff member must be notified and may be required to provide evidence.  

The AEU advises principal class, teacher and ES members to take up the option of agreeing to the ‘statement of expectation’, as the simplified process will reduce your workload, while still recognising the enormous effort you have already put in when transitioning to flexible and remote learning. Further information can be found here. (DET login required)

 

What if I have a confirmed case of novel coronavirus (COVID-19)?

You are to be excluded from school if you have a confirmed case of novel coronavirus.

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Actions:

  • Immediately contact the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) on 1300 651 160 for advice.
  • Your school should make an IRIS incident alert and contact their Regional Director.
  • Call the AEU on 1800 AEU VIC (1800 238 842) for any further advice you may need.

What if I have been in close contact with a person who is a confirmed case?

You are to be excluded from school for a period of 14 days if you have been in close contact with a person who has a confirmed case of novel coronavirus.

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Close contact is defined as having at least 15 minutes face-to-face contact or the sharing of a closed space for more than two hours with a person who has a confirmed case.

Actions:

  • Immediately contact the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) on 1300 651 160 for advice.
  • Your school should make an IRIS incident alert and contact their Regional Director.
  • Call the AEU on 1800 AEU VIC (1800 238 842) for any further advice you may need.

If I have been told I must be excluded from school, what leave arrangements apply?

There are several possible scenarios.

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Confirmed case:

  • If the virus was contracted in the community and not when undertaking duties as an employee, then personal (sick) leave applies.
  • If the virus was contracted while undertaking duties as an employee, then you will be provided with up to three months leave with full pay without deduction from your personal leave credits for the period that you are unfit for duty.

Close contact:

  • If you have been in close contact with a person who has a confirmed case, then you are eligible to access up to 10 days paid special leave (pro rata) to cover the isolation period, as recommended by the DHHS and the Victorian Chief Health Officer. This leave is in addition to any other leave credits that you may have accrued such as personal (sick/carers) leave. Staff who are granted the special leave will not be required to undertake duties from home.

Actions:

  • The department is approving and processing this leave centrally. Contact DET Human Resources for further advice and information.

Can I attend work if I have been in contact with someone who has been in close contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19?

Yes, there is no need to self-isolate unless you have been identified by health authorities as having been in close contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19.

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Am I eligible for paid leave if deemed at risk of contracting coronavirus at work?

The Schools Agreement provides for staff to be granted paid leave if they are at risk through the course of their duties of contracting an infectious disease. The leave provision applies if a medical practitioner certifies that an employee has had contact with a person who has a confirmed case of the virus and a quarantining law prevents the employee from attending work. If an employee has such a certificate and they are exposed to the virus, then the leave may be available.

Currently, there are no lawful restrictions - for example, an enacted forced quarantining law - being placed on teaching service staff that results in employees being unable to attend work.

Who decides if a school closes?

Victoria’s Chief Health Officer will, if necessary, make a recommendation to close a school for 24 hours when there is a confirmed case of COVID-19 among a student or staff member.  

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The Department of Health and Human Services will advise DET, who in turn will support the school’s leadership regarding how to implement the closure, including how to communicate advice and instructions to staff, students, and parents/guardians. Any decision to extend the closure period will be based on an assessment of circumstances at the school.

At this stage, there is no plan by the Department to close all schools at once, although this may change as the situation changes.

What arrangements apply to ES staff, teachers, paraprofessionals, assistant principals and principals where a school is closed?

If a school is closed, staff employed ongoing or fixed term will remain on full pay for the period of the closure.  

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Staff will be considered to be on duty but not in attendance at the workplace. 

Staff will be required to undertake duties to the extent possible, within normal attendance hours, consistent with their classification and job description, and in line with the requirements and limitations outlined in the Victorian Government Schools Agreement 2017.

Those who have contracted the virus or been in close contact with a person who has contracted the virus and must be excluded from school will have other leave arrangements as outlined above.

I am a teacher. Am I required to work from home and provide work for students who are in isolation or if the school is closed?

Yes, but only to the extent possible, within normal attendance school hours and in line with the Schools Agreement.

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The Department has advised that teachers will be expected to carry out duties related to teaching and learning during attendance school hours. Ensure that the tasks you are asked to undertake are the subject of consultation at your school as per the Victorian Government Schools Agreement. Such tasks may include planning, preparation and the assessment of student learning and the provision of learning activities to students.

Work should be provided to students, through online platforms such as Compass (or similar), following consultation about how that is to be done. Where your school does not have such technology in place for that to occur, hard copies of work can be provided to students (worksheets etc) and the distribution of these via email or the postal service should be discussed through the consultative process at your school.

I am an ES staff member. Am I required to work from home?

Yes, all teaching service employees are required to work from home and undertake duties to the extent possible. These duties must be consistent with each ES’ classification and job description.  For some ES this will mean being able to undertake a range of duties, whereas other ES, particularly those who work directly with students, will have more limited capacity to undertake duties from home.

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What assistance is available to help me work from home?

Your school should assist you to adapt to working and teaching from home.

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Additionally, DET has provided financial assistance to support government school teaching and educational support staff to work from home. A one-off payment of $100 for home office expenses has been provided, as well as a $20 per week working from home allowance for home office consumables and utilities (paid on a pro-rata basis based on the employee’s time fraction).

The allowance will be automatically paid through existing payroll to all teaching service employees (including principals, teachers and educational support staff). Schools and staff will not need to apply for the allowance, and support will be provided to schools if these payments result in a salary overspend.

Who is eligible for the working from home allowance?

From Monday 25 May 2020, the working from home allowances will be available for all employees in the teaching service who are required to work remotely. Employees on any type of leave (paid or unpaid) will not qualify for the payment, until their leave ends and they commence or resume working remotely. The working from home allowance will cease for all employees who return to duty at the school in the first pay period following the return to duty at the school.

Does the principal need to advise the school community if there is a confirmed case of coronavirus at the school?

Decisions on this will be made on a case by case basis as advised by DHHS and DET.

I am a casual relief teacher/casual ES. What arrangements are in place for me?

We have achieved a positive outcome for casual relief teachers (CRTs) and casual ES staff who are employed by school councils. This has been a difficult and complex discussion, but the outcome should ensure that casual teacher and ES members who are unable to find work due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic will get some financial relief.

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DET has made it clear that CRTs should be employed where a staff member needs to be replaced, irrespective of remote and flexible learning being in place. Professional practice days will also occur, which means CRTs should be employed to cover these teachers.

Casual relief teachers (CRTs) and other employees engaged by school councils will continue to be employed in the usual way, as required. The expectation is that schools will continue to engage CRTs and other school council employees, including education support casual employees, within existing budgets including when a school is operating remotely.

Schools are encouraged to work closely with their regular CRTs to ensure they are available as per usual arrangements.

Where eligible employees can demonstrate that in any four-week period there was a variation of 15% or more between what they were paid last year and what they were paid this year, the employee will be compensated for the difference from within existing budgets. Claims will be managed at the school level.

A casual relief teacher employed by a CRT agency should contact that agency for advice regarding the arrangements applying in that agency.

Please refer to the DET FAQs for further detail, including eligibility criteria.

Are all school camps cancelled?

DET have advised that any camp to be held on or after Tuesday 17 March 2020 needs to be postponed, rescheduled or (if no other option) cancelled.

What are the arrangements for VCE students now and if their school closes?

The VCAA has developed advice about how to support VCE students and arrangements that teachers can make to accommodate changes to program delivery and assessment brought about by school closures. Please find the VCAA advice here.

Other advice

If members have specific inquiries, they should contact the AEU directly on 1800 AEU VIC (1800 238 842). The union will update advice to members as the situation changes.

Members are encouraged to read the detailed advice provided by the Department on their dedicated coronavirus webpage.

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