Outdoor learning encouraged as SA Education Department excludes air purifiers from return to school

Most students in South Australia start the school year at home, but things will look very different even when they return to class.

A day after it was confirmed that most year levels would start the year with a fortnight of ‘home schooling’, the SA government has provided more details about its ‘hybrid model’ of schooling.

Masks are mandatory for adults, including teachers, and highly recommended for third-year students and above.

Outdoor learning will be encouraged “where appropriate”.

“Non-essential” visitors, including parents and volunteers, will be restricted, but Education Secretary John Gardner said “appropriate arrangements” would be made for parents on the first day of school for preschoolers and daycare students.

Sports between schools, meetings, choir, camps and excursions are postponed for the first three weeks of the school year.

When a student in class tests positive for COVID-19, they should stay home.

Chief Public Health Officer Nicola Spurrier said the student’s teacher and classmates could remain in the classroom, but they should all be quarantined as “close contacts” when not in the classroom.

“Other children will be strongly encouraged to go to school, but I can understand if parents decide not to let them go to school before then.”

There is no indication yet whether classroom contacts of a case will be able to attend after-school care or other activities on school campuses.

Air purifiers excluded from SA schools

The Ministry of Education announced it would not install air purifiers in public schools, despite calls from experts and the opposition to implement them.

“Opening doors and opening windows is much more effective than having air purifiers,” said Professor Spurrier.

The decision is also at odds with the governments of New South Wales and Victoria, which have ordered units for use in some school settings.

The department said it ordered an “independent trial that found that air purifiers do not meaningfully reduce CO2 in teaching spaces and provide minimal improvement in air quality.”

Nicola Spurrier stands in front of a lectern, facing the cameras and media equipment filming her in the foreground
Professor Spurrier said good ventilation is “much more important” than air purifiers.(ABC News: Michael Clements)

“As a result, we have made the decision not to place air purifiers in all classrooms, staff rooms and learning areas across the state,” a statement said.

“SA Health Advisory supports the department’s position and confirms that natural ventilation is the most effective.”

The ministry said its decision was “in line with other states and territories”, but the governments of Victoria, Tasmania and New South Wales have pledged to place air purifiers in schools.

Classes start on February 2

As announced Thursday, formal classes will begin on February 2, with students in Years 2-6 and 9-11 learning at home for a fortnight.

Schools will open from January 31, but only for the children of “essential workers” and vulnerable students.

Mr Gardner said it would be up to the parents to determine the definition.

“If a parent needs to present effectively in their workplace and is unable to provide their child with a safe environment to be at home, then there is supervision at school for them,” he said.

“Now we trust that parents will respond sensibly to this, as they have done during the pandemic.”

Prime Minister Steven Marshall said the disruption to learning was disappointing but necessary.

“I don’t like to do this. I would prefer to have every student back by January 31st,” he said.

“But the information we have received is very convincing.”

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