“The government has an obligation to instruct those people to work from home or in some alternative setting that is safe. They are doing that for every other government department, why aren’t they doing it for schools?,” he said.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said on Sunday she will push for a full lockdown of non-essential services over the next 48 hours with schools expected to close from Tuesday.
Schools will be open on Monday but Ms Berejiklian indicated that would likely change.
NSW Greens MP David Shoebridge wrote to the NSW government on Friday asking for an urgent direction to all at-risk staff in NSW schools to work from home on full pay from Monday.
“This should include staff who are pregnant, immune-suppressed, over 60 or otherwise at significant risk from COVID-19 infection,” he said.
Mr Gavrielatos said teachers are getting mixed messages about the safety of teachers and students in overcrowded schools.
He said the vast majority of public schools had more than 100 students, the maximum allowed in an enclosed space under government guidelines. The size of classrooms made it impossible to ensure children were kept within four square metres of each other.
“Having decided to keep schools open the government has failed to provide clarity in order to ensure that health and safety requirements can be met,” he said.
“The size of our schools and the size of our classrooms makes it impossible for us to implement these social distancing measures.”
Teachers have also held serious concerns about a lack of resourcing necessary to ensure hygiene and sanitation in schools.
The NSW Department of Education sent out a large-scale “soap drop” on Thursday and boosted funding for regular cleaning of high-touch areas.
One teacher who did not wish to be identified told the Herald that while they had enough soap and hand towels now, they had to rely on parents to provide hand sanitisers because they could not find any in supermarkets or pharmacies.
In a memo to staff on Friday, the secretary of the Department of Education Mark Scott acknowledged “social distancing strategies are hard for any of us to implement, let alone for children”.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison last week said school closures would “seriously impact and disrupt the health workforce that is needed to save lives” and this was the “paramount consideration … of the national cabinet”.
The national cabinet will meet on Sunday after a meeting of the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPCC).
Anna Patty is a Senior Writer for The Sydney Morning Herald with a focus on higher education. She is a former Workplace Editor, Education Editor, State Political Reporter and Health Reporter.