“Our schools will be open from Wednesday for students to attend, but we recognise we want to see a staged return,” he said.
Mr Hazzard said a staged transition was about giving parents confidence that their children would be safe, but students would be fine to attend five days per week.
“The fact of the matter is we haven’t beaten this virus, the virus is lying amongst us very stealthily,” he said.
“Obviously schools are very safe places, but there are some parents who are still reluctant. Somewhere there has to be that balance making sure there’s a sense of confidence built.”
When directly asked whether children should return to school full-time, Mr Hazzard said he had seen no health research to suggest they should not send their children back to school five days a week if they wished to do so.
“We’re not going to be concerning parents, and giving them major concerns that might affect their mental health,” he said.
“Certainly from my point of view as Health Minister I’d be delighted if parents choose to take their children back to school as soon as they feel comfortable.”
Mr Scott said while social distancing was not required in classrooms, it remained important particularly for teachers and principals who will need to “think carefully” about how to apply it among staff.
He said the staggered approach was partially to avoid crowds congregating at school gates.
“All schools do remain open and parents will make a choice about what’s most appropriate for their children,” Mr Scott said.
NSW Opposition leader Jodi McKay said Labor had always supported a staggered return, but they wanted year 12 students to return first, then kindergarten, and each year group staggered after that.
“It’s what the teachers are after, it’s what the principals are calling for, and if you are to support year 12 in what is an incredibly difficult year then you must have year 12 back to school,” she said.
“Particularly when you look at the evidence in this report today there is no reason why year 12 can’t go back to school this week.”
Ms Mitchell said “in order to minimise the risk of adult transmission among teachers, support staff and parents, we have planned a gradual return to school that will be managed by principals in order to respond to the particular needs of their school communities.”
Professor Kristine Macartney, who authored a NSW report on the spread of COVID-19 in schools, said it was important to take a measured approach.
“It’s important that we do look at this in a staged way, we’ve got to monitor the number of cases that might be arising,” she said.
Professor Macartney’s research found there was no evidence that children had infected teachers with coronavirus in NSW schools, and half of all cases in schools were in teachers.
“Our report fits very well with evidence from other countries … that is all consistently showing that children have very low rates of infection, they get very mild disease, and the emerging evidence is really that there’s low spread between children and from children to adults,” she said.
Rachel Clun is a journalist at The Sydney Morning Herald.
Alexandra Smith is the State Political Editor of The Sydney Morning Herald.