Coronavirus: FAQs for schools

Updated 1 March 2021

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

General COVID-19 advice from the Department can be found here. Please also note the latest Schools Operations Guide.

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

What is the latest advice for schools?

The Victorian government has announced that the latest 'circuit breaker' lockdown will end at 11.59pm on Wednesday 17 February. This means that all Victorian schools will return to on-site learning from Thursday 18 February.

Victorian schools will return on-site with the same health and safety measures that were in place on Friday 12 February. See the latest School Operations Guide here, detailing the health and safety measures to be in place from 18 February.

Staff, students, and families should be encouraged to regularly check the list of public exposure sites in Victoria (where a person with COVID-19 has attended), and if they have attended a site at the times listed, follow the instructions.

For information about services and resources to support the mental health of all school staff, please read the DET School Update. The Department’s COVID-19 helpline is also available on weekdays from 8.30am to 5pm on 1800 338 663.

What is the current advice on masks?

As directed by the Victorian Chief Health Officer, from 11.59pm Friday 26 February, face masks are no longer mandatory in all indoor spaces in the broader community. Masks are still required in limited indoor settings, such as public transport, commercial passenger vehicles and large retail settings.

At schools, this means that face masks are no longer mandatory in all indoor spaces for school staff and secondary school students aged 12 or older. Visitors and parents must also observe this guidance.

Face masks are recommended, but not mandatory, for use by staff, students and visitors when physical distancing of 1.5 metres cannot be maintained.

People aged 12 years and over must always carry a face mask – unless they have a lawful exemption. This includes at school.

People aged 12 years and over must wear a face mask when on public transport, school buses and when in taxis or ride-share vehicles – unless they have a lawful exemption.

There are a number of lawful excuses for not wearing a face mask, including for staff and students who are unable to wear a face mask due to the nature of their disability. This includes students or staff who have a medical condition, such as a breathing problem, a serious skin condition on the face, or a mental health condition.

Can school camps go ahead?

From 11.59pm on Wednesday 17 February, school camps, including to remote campuses, are permitted to resume across Victoria for all schools. There are no restrictions on travel between metropolitan Melbourne and regional Victoria.

I'm pregnant. Am I expected to work on site?

Where an employee is pregnant and, in the opinion of a registered medical practitioner, illness or risks arising out of the pregnancy or hazards connected with the work assigned to the employee make it inadvisable for the employee to perform their duties on-site, the employee is to be provided with suitable duties that can be performed remotely for such period as is certified necessary by a registered medical practitioner. Read more

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.

There are particular circumstances that need to be considered, so we advise pregnant members to ring our Member Support Centre for support on 03 9417 2822. 

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

We encourage any members who have symptoms to seek a test. COVID testing locations can be found here.

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. Read more

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. Read more

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. Read more

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 may be eligible to 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.
  • Any members in this situation should seek advice from our Member Support Centre on 03 9417 2822.

Close contact:

  • If you have been in close contact with a person who has a confirmed case, and you are well, you should continue to work from home.
  • If you are unwell, you may be eligible for up to 10 days special leave where they have received a direction to self-quarantine from the Chief Health Officer or relevant authority. 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.
  • Contact our Member Support Centre if needing assistance on 03 9417 2822.

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.

What arrangements apply if I am awaiting the results of a coronavirus (COVID-19) test?

Employees who are unwell and waiting for the results of a coronavirus (COVID-19) test should not return to school. They can access personal leave, or some other form of leave, as appropriate. Read more

Employees who are feeling well and waiting for the results of a coronavirus (COVID-19) test should not return to school and may work remotely when it is reasonable, practicable and appropriate to do so. 

If working remotely is not an option for employees who are waiting for coronavirus (COVID-19) test results, the employee may access personal leave, or some other form of leave, as appropriate.

Contact our Member Support Centre if needing assistance on 03 9417 2822.

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. Read more

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.

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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. It may however be appropriate to inform employees that a person in the workplace is being tested for coronavirus (COVID-19). However, this must be done in a way that does not breach an individual’s privacy.

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

We have advocated for CRT work to be promoted in schools during any periods of lockdown, resulting in the Ops Guide including: ‘If insufficient volunteers for on-site supervision program, CRTs should be engaged’.

In 2021, to increase the pool of available CRTs in regional schools, the Department is trialling a process of reimbursing regional schools for CRT costs of travel/mileage and accommodation (more in the Schools Operations Guide).

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. Read more

It is understood however, due to the current circumstances, there may be circumstances where schools will not be in a position to engage a casual employee. Where this occurs, a scheme for compensation has been developed, to ensure those employees who are not employed elsewhere, will continue to receive either employment or compensation.

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. In this context, eligible employees are:

  • CRTs and other employees employed by school councils who in any year within the last three years worked 40 days or more;
  • or a graduate teacher in their first year of registration who has worked at least 10 days in Term 1;
  • available to work on the days required by the school; and
  • not otherwise employed by another employer (with the exception of other school councils).

A CRT or other employee of a school council who does not meet the definition of eligible employee” may seek to be deemed an eligible employee where that employee can demonstrate compelling and/or compassionate circumstances. A CRT employed by a CRT agency should contact that agency for advice regarding the arrangements applying in that agency. These arrangements continue to apply until otherwise advised.

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.

Other advice

The AEU is regularly updating members via email. If members have specific inquiries, they should contact the AEU directly on 1800 AEU VIC (1800 238 842). 

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

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