“The Department continues to support the implementation of flexible workplace rosters, in line with the staggered return of students, to enable both on and off campus learning continuity,” Mr Dizdar wrote in an email to schools.
“We must continue to practise distancing and as such staff who are not required to be on site can be supported by continuing flexible off site arrangements to undertake their duties.”
Greens MP David Shoebridge said teachers were confused after Tuesday night’s messaging contradicted what most principals had told them.
“There’s clearly tension between the federal government and state education authorities on the push [to return to school],” he said. “I think that political tension is behind these kind of mistakes.”
Primary Principals’ Association president Phil Seymour said the fact sheet email had “caused a bit of angst” among staff, but that principals were relieved their staggered back-to-school plans still applied.
“It was a miscommunication,” he said. “Our concern was that they were saying all staff had to be on deck from Monday. We were saying that with 25 per cent of students there, we have rostered teachers off. They’re working with the 75 per cent of kids who aren’t at school.
“Principals are frazzled at present. There’s a lot going on. Changes are happening. We’ve got the Prime Minister saying one thing, the Premier another. We’re saying: don’t rush, we’ve got plans in place, let us get them going.”
A spokesman for the Education Department said it regularly communicates with staff, “like any employer”.
“As we approach a return to classrooms it is important we provide principals and teachers with as much information as possible,” he said.
“This includes a fact sheet that was distributed last night [Tuesday] and supplementary information put out today. Communications like this have been occurring daily and will continue. The feedback on the clarity provided has been appreciated by principals and staff in schools.”
Mr Seymour said there would be changes to which teachers were allowed to work remotely once all children returned full-time.
Premier Gladys Berejiklian has flagged she would like students at school full-time by the end of May. All teachers would then be required to work on-site, with those considered vulnerable under national public health guidelines exempted.
This would still see most of the teaching workforce return to school: about 95 per cent of eastern Sydney public school teachers and 97 per cent of western Sydney schools teachers are under 65, according to 2019 data.
The Education Department has assured staff that workplaces will be safe when they return. This week it is shipping each school hygiene supplies that include hand sanitiser, soap and paper towels, as well as a “social distancing box” with spray paint to mark out areas that encourage distancing.
A one-off package of personal protective equipment for first aid rooms will also be sent, including a temperature monitor, 12 eye protection glasses, 50 masks, sanitary clothing, gloves and disinfectant wipes.
NSW Teacher’s Federation president Angelo Gavrielatos said the provisions were essential for staff and students’ health and safety.
“We will certainly be monitoring the delivery of that material to schools to ensure that levels of cleanliness and hygiene are maintained,” he said.
Natassia is the education reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald.