Secondary Principals Council president Craig Petersen said principals were “really concerned about that.”
“I know from families I have spoken to, they are so confused. It’s really important that people stick with what the Premier said, which is students start returning to school from May 11,” he said.
“Apart from anything else, if people ignore that advice, schools won’t be able to cope … It will compromise a whole range of things; it will compromise the delivery from at-home learning. It will compromise the safety of staff at school.”
Phil Seymour from the Primary Principals Association said the staggered return “will only work if we get parental discipline – if parents accept this is the best way forward.”
However, other parents also remain reluctant to send their children back to school when the staged return begins. Some principals say they expect about a third of their students to remain at home while others return.
“There’s a very wide range of views,” said Tim Spencer from the P&C Federation. “You have parents who are obviously of the mind to send their kids back to school, they have their own issues to deal with in terms of work and so forth.
“There are parents who would love to have their kids back in front of their teacher. Most parents see the home learning situation as just marking time. There are obviously some kids having really good experiences, but they are in the minority.”
Gladesville mother Sonia Tecli, with twin girls in year 11, is not a fan of remote learning, but is unsure if she will send her daughters back.
“If the [COVID-19 case] numbers keep going down and they have a way to implement social distancing measures I think I would give it a go,” she said. “But my issue is also public transport – all that stuff needs to be considered first.”
Premier Gladys Berejiklian said it is a “big step but an important step” for students to go back to a physical classroom environment next month. She does not want children to have to go back to online schooling once they return to class.
“Once our kids go back to school, that’s it,” she said on Monday. “I want them to stay open for the duration of the pandemic.”
Schools are drawing up their own return-to-class plans, some based on alphabets, or postcodes, or year groups. Smaller schools, or those where a big proportion of families intend to keep children home, could offer students more than one day a week in class.
A Catholic school in Ryde, where there are only 130 students, has already drawn up a week-on, week-off system in which half the school will attend Monday, Wednesday and Friday, the other half Tuesday and Thursday, and then they will swap the following week.
Many public schools are also trying to prioritise year 12, worried that private students who return to full-time teaching earlier will have an advantage in the Higher School Certificate.
NSW Department of Education heads told principals on Monday that the cap of 25 per cent of students at school on any day was a guideline rather than a rule, which will allow schools to bring back year 12 on top of one day a week for other grades.
“The rhetoric has amplified, they are not directing that you need to have them in every day, but everyone I have spoken to is having them back all the time,” said one principal.
But some principals want the government to issue a system-wide directive on sending year 12 back, saying that without that, some schools might not do it and those students would be disadvantaged.
The NSW Education Standards Authority has also temporarily changed curriculum requirements so teachers do not need to cover the whole kindergarten to year 10 syllabus, and can instead choose the ones they deem essential.
Jordan Baker is Education Editor of The Sydney Morning Herald
Natassia is the education reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald.