Advice for families

COVID-smart settings for schools have been developed and updated to reflect recent updates in NSW Health COVID-19 guidelines and the department’s management of COVID-19 within educational settings.

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

Last updated 3:00 pm 9 October 2023

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

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).

Staying home when sick

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 if they have COVID-19 symptoms.

Anyone who believes they have been exposed to COVID-19 is strongly recommended to monitor for symptoms and follow the advice issued by NSW Health.

Consider doing a Rapid Antigen Test (RAT) to help identify infection early and is important if you are in contact with people at higher risk of serious illness if exposed to COVID-19.

Parents and carers who have children with persistent or ongoing symptoms of COVID-19 are encouraged to have these assessed by their local health care professional. These symptoms may be related to other illnesses (e.g. allergies or hay fever) that require treatment and management by a doctor.

COVID-smart measures in schools

COVID-19 is still active in the community. While COVID-19 remains an unpredictable virus, NSW Health advise that it COVID-19 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 if unwell, and only attending school when symptom free
  • consider doing a Rapid Antigen Test (RAT) for symptomatic students and staff
  • people exposed to COVID-19 should follow NSW Health guidance and should consider doing a RAT 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)
  • good hygiene practices including regular hand washing
  • maintaining natural ventilation, with consideration of local environmental circumstances
  • recommending staff and visitors to wear a mask 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

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, if 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
  • recommending mask wearing for adults and high school students and strongly recommending for primary aged students
  • limiting visitors to schools
  • separating cohorts of students
  • learning from home or remotely.

Testing

From 13 May 2023, COVID-19 PCR testing has transitioned to a pathology referral from a GP as advised by NSW Health.

Remember: Staff and students should stay home if they are unwell. If COVID-19 symptoms occur, you should consider undertaking a rapid antigen test (RAT) to identify infection early. Schools have access to RATs that may be distributed to the wider school community.

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 allergies or hay fever).

For positive COVID-19 cases

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

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 routinely inform the school community of any known positive cases and guide families based on NSW Health advice, including monitoring for symptoms.

For more information, including COVID-19 guidelines and fact sheets, refer to NSW Government advice on Testing and managing 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 recommended to wear a mask, particularly in indoor settings or when physical distancing is not possible, or while working or volunteering with students at greater risk of serious illness should they contract COVID-19.

This is particularly important for people who have been exposed to COVID-19.

Events

School events can proceed within the following guidelines:

  • Consider if the event or gathering can be held outdoors.

  • If holding an event indoors:

    • consider separating 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 considering environmental factors
    • masks are recommended for students, staff, visitors and volunteers in high-traffic spaces or where physical distancing is not possible.

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 indoor assemblies, presentations and 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 hospitalisation The department continues to strongly recommend all staff remain up-to-date with their COVID-19 vaccinations.

In addition to the COVID-19 vaccination, students and staff are strongly encouraged to maintain up-to-date vaccinations for their own personal health.

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.

The department strongly encourages all staff and students 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.

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.

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.

ATSOs and ASTP drivers

From 9 October 2023, Assisted Travel Support Officers (ATSOs) and Assisted School Travel Program (ASTP) drivers are no longer required to be double-vaccinated against COVID-19 or hold a medical contraindication.

For more information refer to Vaccination requirements for school sites.

Masks

Masks are an effective way to reduce the risk of transmission of respiratory viruses and infectious diseases, including COVID-19.

Masks are recommended for all students, staff and visitors to school sites, particularly when using transport, excursions and other large group events where physical distancing cannot be maintained. Masks are also particularly recommended for people who believe they have been exposed to COVID-19.

Masks are also recommended to be worn by 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.

For further guidance please also refer to our Infection Control Procedures.

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.

Since Term 3, 2023 cleaning in schools has resumed to pre-pandemic measures. This is a daily comprehensive clean provided by professional cleaning services.

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 minimise interaction between the community users and school students and staff.Community use of school sites should use outdoor spaces and be held after hours where possible.

  • Community use of school sites should use outdoor spaces and be held after hours where possible.
  • Community users are encouraged to follow the department's COVID-smart measures and NSW Health's Together we stay COVID-safe guidelines.
  • 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, as 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 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 are recommended to wear a mask if interacting with 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.

Language schools that operate on school sites

Community languages schools are allowed to operate on school sites, with a community use agreement.

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.
  • Consider RAT testing for COVID-19 if you become symptomatic and/or before visiting vulnerable loved ones or going to large gatherings and events.
  • Practice good hand hygiene by washing hands regularly.

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.

Category:

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