Coronavirus/COVID-19: FAQs for schools and preschools

Updated: 20 March 2020

The Coronavirus pandemic has caused anxiety and fear throughout the community. AEU members are part of the frontline of services at high risk of contracting COVID-19, a fact frequently ignored by government.

Some of your frequently asked questions (and answers) about the AEU SA response to COVID-19 are compiled below. Check back for updates.

Can schools still run events like sports day, assemblies, and conferences?

The AEU have been calling for the Department for Education (DfE) to provide clear guidelines. The AEU position is that all non-essential activity should be postponed.

I’ve been sent home for self-isolation. What leave do I take?

Leave arrangements are still under consideration by the Department. The AEU was consulted on a draft proposal on Monday 16 March and the Department will provide details to staff following the Commissioner from Public Employment making a determination. The Department has flagged that leave of this nature will be will be classed as an “authorised absence”. More details to follow.

The AEU has been calling for special leave with pay in these circumstance for all employees regardless of classification or employment category e.g. casual and contract employment.

My school has been required to closed. What leave do I take?

As above.

I need to be home to care for a child whose school is closed and/or is being quarantined.  What leave do I take?

As above.
If I am sick will I be required to take sick leave or will special leave be available?

Leave arrangements still not confirmed. The AEU’s position is that it should be special leave.
I am a TRT. What will a closed site mean for casual employees?

The AEU has been negotiating for TRTs to receive the same paid special leave provisions as other staff taking into account prior work patterns.

The Quick Reference Guide circulated by the Department contains information regarding temporary and casual employees impacted by COVID-19 being paid for rostered/booked shifts where they fall ill, need to self isolate, if there are site closures or you have caring responsibilities, please see the Department’s guide for all details.

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I am over 60 years of age. What is being done for members who are in this risk category?

The evidence is that everyone is at risk. The AEU has asked DfE to provide working from home arrangements or special leave provisions for those considered vulnerable for COVID-19 immediately. The Department’s Quick Reference Guide refers to employees with underlying health conditions, including access to work from home or accessing your personal leave.

It is the AEU’s position that paid leave should be provided by the employer.  We will continue to pursue this.
My pregnancy is at risk if I am infected with COVID-19. Is there anything I can do?

Members can request to work from home. The AEU has asked the DfE to provide working from home arrangements or special leave provisions for those considered vulnerable for COVID-19 immediately.

The Department’s Quick Reference Guide provides several options including transfer to a safe job, working from home or 'no safe job' leave if eligible.
I have health complications and I feel anxious about contracting COVID-19. Can I work from home?

The AEU has asked DfE to provide ‘working from home arrangements’ or ‘special leave provision’ for vulnerable members.
If I contract the virus at school can I claim Workers Compensation?

Yes.
DfE’s response to “mass gathering” seems contradictory. Is it OK for an assembly for 700 students and staff to proceed?

Assemblies should be avoided. The AEU has asked the DfE to provide clear and consistent advice to schools on these matters.

What rights do members actually have?

DfE have not confirmed leave arrangements despite AEU attempts to seek clarity . All workers have a right to a safe workplace. The Work Health and Safety Act SA, Division 6, Clause 84, Right of worker to cease unsafe work, states that:  “A worker may cease, or refuse to carry out, work if the worker has a reasonable concern that to carry out the work would expose the worker to a serious risk to the worker's health or safety, emanating from an immediate or imminent exposure to a hazard.”

See your health & safety rep for further details. 

Can some clarity be provided about the role of cleaners in maintaining an hygienic workplace?

DfE have agreed to review cleaning contracts – more to follow.

Can I work from home?

The Department’s Quick Reference Guide includes details of when working from home arrangements can be sought and includes the following:

Working from home is supported wherever practicable and appropriate, considering that we can maintain effective operations and essential services without physical presence.
Depending on the circumstances, for example when self-isolating, teaching staff may be able to undertake duties such as planning/preparation and marking (including on behalf of other teachers) from home.
Working from home arrangements are to be negotiated with and approved by the appropriate leader.

Contact your site leader (or line manager if you are the site leader) if you are seeking work from home arrangements.

What is the process for applying to work at home if considered vulnerable?

Working from home arrangements are to be negotiated with and approved by the appropriate leader. Working from home is supported wherever practicable and appropriate, considering that we can maintain effective operations and essential services without physical presence. Depending on the circumstances, for example when self-isolating, teaching staff may be able to undertake duties such as planning/preparation and marking (including on behalf of other teachers) from home. (See Quick Reference Guide.)

We have asked for further information regarding the process for leaders who approve this arrangement for staff regarding any necessary work health and safety documentation.
We have concerns about hygiene resources that are not available to staff and students. 

In a recent media interview, DfE leadership stated that additional supplies are ordered and expected. Advice from the department for those who cannot access hygiene supplies is to call the Department hotline – 8226 1440. 
Do staff get paid it they are forced to be at off site ?

"Temporary and casual employees impacted by CoVID-19 will be paid for rostered/booked shifts where they are directed away due to site closure." We have sought clarification from the Department regarding leave arrangements for all staff in the event of closures, other than for ‘deep cleaning’ which is covered in the Department’s Quick Reference Guide.
If staff with underlying health conditions are approved to work from home or access leave, who would then be accountable for the safety and care of the students?

As with any circumstances when there are insufficient staff to maintain duty of care for students, site leaders should contact their Education Director to discuss options, including site closure. 
Is access to special leave – COVID-19 available for staff with underlying health conditions?

Department arrangements currently are that they should access work from home, or personal leave or LWOP. (See Quick Reference Guide.)

It is the AEU’s position that paid leave should be provided by the employer.  We will continue to pursue this.

I would appreciate further clarification on ‘flexible work conditions’?

In schools and preschools, flexible work arrangements/conditions could refer to working at a different location or in this instance, it is mostly likely to refer to working from home.  The AEU understands that DFE will issue further clarification on this matter shortly.