COVID-19: How a Sydney High School Is Practicing Social Distancing

There’s been a lot of discussion around whether the Australian Government is making the right decision keeping schools across the country open amid the coronavirus pandemic. Australia’s approach is that schools should remain open (private schools are making their own independent decisions on the matter), with one of the main reasons being to keep our healthcare workforce on the job.

According to the Sydney Morning Herald, approximately 30% of healthcare workers might need to take time off to look after their kids if we were to close down schools. It would also potentially mean more vulnerable members of the community (grandparents, for example) would be tasked with minding kids while parents work, leaving them exposed to COVID-19.

The government is, of course, recommending that any students that feel unwell should be kept home.

If public indoor gatherings of 100 have been banned in NSW, and outdoor gatherings of over 500, why are we putting our kids and teachers at risk? Understandably, this decision has been cause for huge debate.

I can’t pretend I’m an expert or know the right answer. I don’t even have kids, so I can’t quite relate to the same level as many in our community. My husband Jason, however, is a high school teacher. So while I have the privilege of self-isolating and working from home to help flatten the curve, he’s suiting up and heading off to work every day.

No matter what side of the fence you sit on (I have been involved in many group chat debates surrounding the government’s decision not to close schools — hi friends!), I thought it important to share a story from the other side.

While we all debate outside school walls, let’s take a look at what’s happening within.

Jason works at East Hills Boys High School and when he shared with me what he’s doing to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, I felt compelled to share with others, too. My hope is that this helps ease some anxiety for parents across the country, to know that the teachers tasked with educating their kids are taking things seriously and doing all they can to keep their students safe.

Below, I interviewed Jason — which I can safely say I never thought would happen. I called him while he was on his lunch break (literally for five minutes between a catch up with his principal and scrubbing down his classroom) so he could share the way East Hills Boys High School is shifting the way it operates.

Amanda Bardas: Hi Jase, I thought back on how you came home and showed me your shrivelled fingers last night [from all the handwashing at school], and the conversation we had around how you’re shifting the way you work to protect your students. Can you tell me what measures you’ve put in place since the outbreak of COVID-19?

Jason Bardas: [Laughs] Of course. I know it’s a horrific situation we’re all dealing with, but rather than complaining all day, we’re staying calm and trying to follow the directives we’ve been given as closely as possible.

We’re practising distancing measures. Where possible, we’re taking classes outside into the playground for outdoor learning lessons. I have the advantage of being an art teacher. My year 8 class, for example, is currently doing perspective drawing, so I’ve been taking them outside to draw the quad and surrounding buildings.

When we’re taking kids outside, we’re making sure they are spread out at least a few metres apart.

It was good to see today when I took my kids outside for their lesson, there were a few other classes from other faculties already having outdoor learning lessons to ensure distancing measures were in place.

We’re lucky in that our school has large grounds so it gives us the opportunity to spread out quite easily.

AB: What other precautions are you taking inside the classroom?

JB: When we’re in classrooms it’s a little trickier to keep distancing in place but we’re working with what we have available to us — we’re moving desks around the room or having one student per desk. We’re trying as hard as possible to ensure there’s at least 1.5m between each student.

AB: What are the difficulties you’ve faced when putting social distancing into play?

JB: I’m at an advantage being an art and photography teacher. My classes rarely get bigger than 25 students — but other subjects that aren’t specialty-based or electives are going to struggle more having smaller classrooms and more students.

AB: And what about hand-washing, how are you enforcing that?

JB: Other than asking the students to practice good hygiene by washing their hands before and after class, and coughing or sneezing into their elbow as advised by the Department of Education, I’ve also noticed teachers are making sure there is antibacterial hand sanitiser in classrooms and staffrooms.

AB: That’s great. And what are you and other teachers doing to protect yourselves?

JB: I’m doing what we all should be doing. I’m washing my hands constantly throughout the day, I’m using hand sanitiser religiously, and using antibacterial wipes to clean door handles, art equipment and taps.

Take me back to when the biggest issue of the day was worrying about a kid who spilt paint on his shirt.

The current health crisis is evolving rapidly. If you suspect you or a family member has coronavirus you should call (not visit) your GP or ring the national Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080.