opinion

"Getting worse by the day": I'm a teacher in a Melbourne hotspot and forced to be at school.

I have been teaching for nearly two decades, and up until this year I have never felt as if there has been a threat to my health and safety while at work. I've felt protected, supported and have absolutely loved coming to work each day. COVID-19 has changed all of this.

Now I go to work and have no idea if I am safe or if it will remain that way, it's really just a roll of the dice.

Watch: Premier Daniel Andrews announces that masks will be mandatory across Victoria. Post continues below.


Video via Sky News Australia

I'm currently a VCE teacher for Years 11 and 12 at a Melbourne secondary school. The school I teach at is within an area that has one of the biggest COVID-19 clusters in Melbourne, and has recently been closed for deep cleaning due to a student who was COVID-19 positive.

The situation is very real. It is extremely overwhelming. It is scary. It is anxiety inducing and it is getting worse by the day.

Students at the school I work at (apart from those with medical conditions) have to wear face masks, and as a teacher I do too - except for when I am teaching, because even with the surgical masks it is difficult for students to hear me. But despite this, schools are by no means safe for any of us. There's a set of different rules that seem to apply to primary and secondary schools, but no one else. 

Take for example the normal social distancing guidelines enforced pretty much everywhere in order to protect people, but that don’t apply to schools because of the ‘impracticality.’

The Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) said that they don’t believe that the venue density rule of no more than one person per four square metres is appropriate or practical in classrooms or corridors, nor maintaining 1.5 metres between students during classroom activities. Therefore social distancing at schools, for the most part, is essentially not expected and definitely not followed.

And while I agree it may be ‘impractical,' it is also completely unsafe. 

Currently in the Melbourne and Mitchell Shire areas, the Prep to Year 10 curriculum is being taught remotely, with the the exception of children of essential workers or those who attend specialist schools. All VCE subjects, however, are still being taught on site. Which means as a VCE teacher I am expected to be at school, even though it's the last place I want to be because I feel so unsafe.

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A couple of weeks ago, after our school was temporarily closed for the ‘deep clean,' I raised my health and safety concerns with the Principal, and asked to work from home because I didn't feel it was safe to be at school.  

I was told that unless I fell within one of the four stipulated categories, I could not. (Those include being 70 or over, being 65 or older with a chronic medical condition, any age with a compromised immune system, or an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander over 50 with one or more chronic medical conditions.

I was informed that I was expected to fulfil my role onsite, or alternatively I could apply for my leave entitlements like long service leave or use my sick leave with a medical certificate instead. 

I was gobsmacked. It felt completely unfair, unjustified and a cruel blow to what is already a horrendous predicament to be in. 

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While I truly understand how difficult this situation is for everyone - for parents, for the students, and especially VCE students who are at such a critical point of their education - I also know that forcing teachers and other school staff to be at work on site, within the lockdown region where COVID infections have closed over 90 schools in the state since March, is putting us at risk. It's putting our health and safety and student’s health and safety at risk and that is not fair and it's not acceptable.

Myself, and many other people I know who work at schools, just do not understand how the Department of Health can advise Victorians - “If you can work from home you must work from home,” and then tell us we cannot.  

I continually ask myself: 

Why are there rules for those who work at schools and then a separate lot for everyone else?

Why are we expected to work in conditions that most other industries are not permitted to?

And why can’t we request the same rights that everyone else can?

The author of this story is known to Mamamia but has chosen to remain anonymous for privacy reasons.

Feature image: Getty. The image used is a stock image.

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