At a time when political consensus has been the norm, not the exception, the debate over schools has become a flashpoint like no other. With about 1 million students in Victoria participating in an enormous social experiment in remote learning, that should hardly be surprising.
What is surprising is the ongoing Punch and Judy show it has become between the federal and state governments. While most disagreements have been kept within the four virtual walls of the national cabinet, from the get-go there has been public bickering. Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Commonwealth Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy have advocated strongly for schools to stay open for all students, while Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews, with the backing of the state’s Chief Health Officer, Brett Sutton, has pushed back hard.
Against advice from Canberra, Mr Andrews shut down Victoria’s schools four days before end-of-term holidays, and is now playing hardball in refusing to set a timeframe for opening them for students beyond those who are vulnerable or are children of essential workers.
In contrast, New South Wales has given the green light for students to be in the classroom at least one day a week from May 11, and in Western Australia schools will be open from Wednesday, despite protests from teacher unions. Of the other states and territories, only Tasmania and the ACT have not yet outlined a plan to return to classes in term two.