Advice for families

COVID-smart settings for schools have been developed and updated in close consultation with NSW Health.

For early childhood education and care information, please refer to the Guidelines for ECEC services.

Last updated 3 pm 27 January 2023

COVID-smart settings in schools fact sheet for parents and carers including translations

For an easy-to-read summary of our COVID-smart measures continuing in schools this term, refer to the NSW Government's COVID-smart settings fact sheet for parents and carers (PDF 162KB). You can also access and download the fact sheet in 36 community languages.

Change to isolation requirements

Following the National Cabinet announcement in late 2022, people who test positive to COVID-19 do not need to isolate. In line with this announcement, the NSW Department of Education has worked with NSW Health to support all schools to adapt to this change while continuing to prioritise student and staff wellbeing by minimising the risk of COVID-19 transmissions.

Students and staff should continue to stay home when sick

Students, staff and visitors should only attend school when they are symptom free. We strongly encourage all students, staff and visitors to follow the guidance issued by NSW Health. We will continue to send home students or staff displaying symptoms.

Anyone who believes they have been exposed to COVID-19 is strongly recommended to monitor for symptoms and test if they have any concerns, as well as wear a mask. We will continue to support our families to use rapid antigen tests (RATs) if symptomatic or if you believe you have been exposed to COVID-19. RAT testing may help identify the infection early and is important if you are in contact with people at greater risk of serious illness if exposed to COVID-19.

COVID-smart measures in schools

While COVID-19 remains an unpredictable virus, NSW Health advise that it will continue to present a health risk to the community. Accordingly, schools will continue to implement baseline COVID-smart measures to help reduce the risk of transmission for students and staff members. These key COVID-smart measures include:

  • staying home and getting tested if unwell, and only attending school when symptom free

  • rapid antigen testing for symptomatic students and staff. People exposed to COVID-19 should follow NSW Health guidance and test to identify infection early even if they are not experiencing any symptoms.

  • strongly encouraging COVID-19 vaccinations for students, staff and their families, including a booster shot (when eligible) and maintaining double dose vaccination requirements for staff who work in an SSP

  • good hygiene practices including regular hand washing with soap and warm water and/or use of hand sanitiser

  • maintaining natural ventilation, with consideration of local environmental circumstances

  • boosted cleaning during the day, with particular attention given to high touch surface areas
  • wearing a mask for all staff and visitors when working with or visiting Schools for Specific Purposes (SSPs), support units or schools with students who are at greater risk of serious illness should they contract COVID-19 particularly indoors and when physical distancing is not possible

  • assessing risk and applying appropriate safeguards across activities and events

  • learning remotely where face-to-face learning is not possible.

In certain circumstances, the Department of Education may advise that additional COVID-smart measures be temporarily reintroduced at your school. Your principal will work with the Health, Safety and Staff Wellbeing Case Management team and provide further details of any changes to COVID-smart measures at your school, when required. These temporary measures may include:

  • ceasing large indoor gatherings

  • ceasing off-site and inter-school activities

  • cancelling or postponing overnight activities and excursions, including school camps

  • mandating mask wearing for adults and high school students

  • limiting visitors to schools

  • separating cohorts of students

  • learning from home or remotely.

Testing

Remember: Staff and students should stay home if they are unwell. If COVID-19 symptoms occur, your child should undertake a rapid antigen test (RAT).

The department has advised schools to maintain appropriate levels of RAT supplies to support symptomatic testing.

  • If a student is unwell and has any COVID-19 symptoms, even the mildest of symptoms, they should always test for COVID-19.
  • If the test comes back negative for COVID-19, the student should still not return to school until either:

    • The student no longer has any symptoms, or

    • A medical certificate is provided to the school confirming that symptoms are explained by another diagnosis (such as hay fever)

For positive COVID-19 cases

If there is a positive case in your child’s class, year or other grouping, your child can continue to attend school in line with NSW Health advice.

If a student or staff member receives a positive RAT or PCR test, they should:

  • record the positive result, if a RAT was taken, through the Service NSW website or Service NSW app– please add details of your child's school or early childhood education centre when prompted.

  • notify the school of the positive RAT or PCR test result as soon as possible.

Negative results do not need to be reported to Service NSW or to the school.

Staff and students may use the RAT kits supplied to them by their school. If you require additional RAT kits for your child, please get in touch with your school’s front office who can provide or organise additional kits. 

Schools will continue to inform their community when there is a positive case in the school and guide families based on NSW Health advice, including monitoring for symptoms.

For more information, including COVID-19 guidelines and fact sheets, refer to People who tested positive or were exposed to COVID-19.

Visitors on school grounds

Schools and early childhood education services can invite visitors – including parents, carers and families – to their sites regardless of their vaccination status, in line with settings in the broader community.

All visitors are strongly encouraged to wear a mask, particularly in indoor settings or when distancing is not possible, and when interacting directly with students.

Events

School events can proceed within the following guidelines:

  • Holding the event/gathering outdoors

  • If holding an event indoors:

    • consider separating your students into cohorts and encourage physical distancing where practicable
    • consider seating plans or separated areas to minimise mingling
    • limit the number of guests attending where possible
    • provide hygiene supplies (such as sanitiser) and encourage their use
    • maintain natural ventilation
    • masks are strongly encouraged for students, staff, visitors and volunteers in outdoor high-traffic spaces (such as selling or collecting tickets) or where physical distancing is not possible outdoors.

Schools, including external event organisers, will continue to apply layered COVID-smart measures as per the guidelines on this page when planning activities such as end-of-year celebrations like formals and graduations. It is also recommended to consider contingency plans in case COVID-smart measures change before the event/gathering.

Vaccinations

COVID-19 vaccination is the best protection against severe illness and reduces the risk of spreading it to others.

We strongly recommend all eligible students (and their families) who are 5 years and older get vaccinated against COVID-19, including booster vaccinations as they become available to different groups.

For more information on booster vaccinations, including eligibility and timing, please refer to NSW Health Booster vaccination. To book an appointment near you, visit the Find a vaccine clinic website.

In line with the department’s policy regarding COVID-19 vaccination for employees, most department staff are no longer required to be vaccinated against COVID-19 as a condition of employment. The exception to this is for department staff working at or visiting SSPs, who must be double vaccinated with an approved COVID-19 vaccine, or hold a valid medical contraindication – this includes corporate and department staff.

While vaccination against COVID-19 will no longer be mandated for most employees, the department strongly encourages all staff to continue to keep their vaccination status up to date, as determined by ATAGI, as a key form of protection for their own health and to keep their school community safe if school-based.

Additionally, the ongoing pandemic and stay-at-home orders that were in place over the previous two years have resulted in some children and young people missing out on school-based non-COVID-19 vaccination programs. NSW Health and the department would like to remind parents and carers to make sure their child’s vaccinations are up-to-date, including other, non-COVID-19 vaccinations. Parents and carers who are unsure whether their child has missed any vaccinations should speak with their GP or refer to NSW Health’s Immunisation requirements in primary and secondary schools.

Parents and carers who have children with persistent or ongoing symptoms of COVID-19 are encouraged to have these assessed by their local medical practitioner. These symptoms may be related to other illnesses that require treatment and management by a doctor.

Requirements for ATSOs and ASTP drivers

Assisted Travel Support Officers (ATSOs) and Assisted School Travel Program (ASTP) drivers are required to have a minimum of 2 doses of a COVID-19 vaccine under the department’s vaccination policy. For more information refer to Vaccination requirements for school sites.

Masks

Masks are an effective way of minimising the transmission of respiratory diseases.

Masks are strongly encouraged for all students, staff and visitors to school sites while indoors, where physical distancing is not possible, and on public transport, particularly to and from school and camps/excursions.

Masks are also particularly encouraged for people who believe they have been exposed to COVID-19.

Masks continue to be required for staff, volunteers and workers who support our students who are at greater risk of serious illness should they contract COVID-19, whether they be in schools for specific purposes (SSPs), support units or mainstream classrooms. This may include:

  • NDIS services

  • ATSP services – drivers and Assisted Travel Support Officers

  • education and/or support of a student in an SSP, support unit or mainstream setting where the student is dependent on the worker for mobility, health care, personal care, or constant supervision to minimise harm – including:
    • school learning support officers (SLSOs)
    • school counselling staff
    • learning and support teachers
    • early intervention staff
    • itinerant support teachers
    • assistant principals (hearing or vision)
    • assistant principals learning and support
    • support teachers transition
    • classroom teachers
    • allied health professionals engaged through the allied health pre-qualification scheme
    • attendant carers engaged through third-party providers.

For more information, refer to Guidance on wearing face masks.

Ventilation

Fresh air is the most effective form of ventilation to minimise the risk of COVID-19 transmission. Where there is no natural ventilation, schools will use mechanical ventilation to maximise fresh airflow in learning spaces. Using outdoor spaces will continue to be encouraged.

With the possibility of low air quality due to smoke in the warmer months, the department has advised that schools should follow the advice of relevant authorities, depending on their specific environmental circumstances.

For more information, refer to Ventilation.

Additional information for Assisted Travel School Officers

Drivers and Assisted Travel School Officers will be ensuring adequate ventilation is provided in vehicles through a combination of window and air-conditioning use.

Hygiene and cleaning 

Students and staff are encouraged to wash their hands regularly with soap and water.

Schools will continue boosted day cleaning processes throughout Term 4. Target areas include high-touch areas, hard surfaces, door handles, lockers, light switches and handrails in stairways and areas where students and staff move through regularly.

Community use of school sites

Community use of school sites under community use agreements are permitted. This includes:

  • community sports
  • playgroups
  • schools as community centres
  • dance or drama groups
  • Parent and Citizens Association activities.

The school should have plans in place to avoid interaction between the community users and school students and staff.

  • Community users do not need to be vaccinated, unless required by their organisation. Parents, carers and other visitors participating do not need to be vaccinated.

  • Community users during school hours must also sign in as visitors as per the school’s usual sign in procedures.

Parents and Citizens (P&C) Associations

P&C Association meetings, operations and activities are permitted on school sites with approval from the principal. P&C Association employees, volunteers and attendees do not need to be vaccinated, per current advice from NSW Health.

P&C Association meetings and operations such as canteens, uniforms shops and OSHC held on school sites will need to ensure that they follow current COVID-19 safety requirements, as specified by the NSW Department of Education and NSW Government. The P&C Association is not required to have a COVID-19 Safety Plan for meetings and should follow the requirements of the school. Alternative arrangements can be made by the P&C organiser if they are unable to meet on the school site.

P&C Association activities requiring a Community Use Agreement are subject to requirements outlined in the Community use of school sites section above. P&C organisers and attendees must:

  • Wear a mask if attending an SSP, support unit and/or when interacting directly with students at greater risk of severe illness if they were to contract COVID-19.

Language schools that operate on school sites

Community languages schools are allowed to operate on school sites, with a Community Use Acknowledgement (PDF 190 KB) .

For additional support, check COVID-19 Business rules in NSW for hospitality or complete an optional Hospitality COVID-19 Safety Plan.

Reducing the risk of illness

All students, staff and their families should follow NSW Health’s advice to reduce the risk of not only COVID-19 but also other viral illnesses that may affect schools. Schools should reinforce the following NSW Health messages with their communities:

  • Stay home if unwell or showing even the mildest of symptoms.

  • Keep up to date with vaccinations – including COVID-19 booster shots and flu vaccines, available from your local GP, pharmacy or Aboriginal Medical Service.

  • Get tested immediately for COVID-19 if you become symptomatic.

  • Practice good hand hygiene by washing regularly with soap and warm water.

  • Take a RAT before visiting vulnerable loved ones or going to large gatherings and events.

Specific activities

Guidelines have been provided to schools on how to assess activities with a higher risk of exposure to COVID-19 and apply appropriate safeguards.

Parents and carers will be made aware of those risks and will need to give their permission for participation in extra-curricular, out-of-school hours or off-site activities.

Learning from home

Where face-to-face learning is not possible, learning from home options will be supported for short periods.

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