Thousands of students in our region can't go to school this week, and while the rules seem to be reasonably clear for Armidale and Tamworth, parents and students in surrounding local government areas are confused.
All residents of Armidale and Tamworth have been told to stay at home unless they need to leave for essential reasons, such as shopping, medical appointments; a vaccination or a COVID-19 test; or essential work. The order also applies to anyone who has been in Armidale since July 29.
It comes after Armidale went into a snap seven-day lockdown from 5pm last Saturday, followed by Tamworth on Monday. There are three cases of COVID-19 in the Armidale local government area and multiple exposure sites in Tamworth.
On Tuesday it was announced that no new cases of COVID-19 have been identified in Armidale or Tamworth.
"Whilst the schools are closed, no child will be turned away from a school," he said.
"For example, if I was a nurse, as a single parent and I had a child, I have to work because I'm a nurse and I'm at the hospital. I'm probably jabbing or testing people. I could send my son to school as per normal.
"But basically, the schools will be closed; there won't be any teaching or learning being undertaken."
A deep clean at Armidale Secondary College has been completed and the school is operational again for children of essential workers.
The shutdown will mean a postponement of a trial Higher School Certificate exam by local year 12 students by a week.
Walcha Central School posted on its Facebook page that all students who had been in Armidale since July 29 were encouraged to attend school.
"Students and staff are still allowed to attend school under stay-at-home orders," principal Amanda Cooper said in a video presentation.
"As essential workers, we are allowed to do our job of teaching. All of our students are encouraged to be at school."
While many parents commented on the page that their family had been in Armidale on or after July 29 and that they preferred to keep their children home, Ms Cooper stressed that Walcha Central School was not in a lockdown area and remained open.
"Please continue to explain your child's absence each day as you would normally," she said.
At Uralla Central School, principal Michael Rathborne said that his entire staff would prefer to have the school closed or minimally operational and work from home for 'everybody's safety'.
"Unfortunately, we are classed as essential workers and are directed to be here," he said on the school's Facebook page.
However, given the minimal attendance of students at the school on Monday, Mr Rathborne said he had moved to a one-unit learning model for the remainder of the week. Students will learn via a mixture of online and paper-based take-home packs, and there will be minimal supervision at the school.
A NSW Department of Education spokesperson said schools that are not in the areas of restriction under NSW Health orders remain open for all students.
"If a student's parents or family members have been in Armidale or Tamworth but the student has not, they are still able to attend school," they said.
"For students who have been in Armidale since July 29 or in Tamworth since August 5 and are captured by the stay at home orders, leaving your home to attend school if you can't learn from home is permitted as a reasonable excuse under the health orders.
"Therefore if they do not have any symptoms, they can still attend their school if it is open and learning from home provisions aren't available.
"If parents wish to keep their children at home as a precaution they may do so and their child will be marked as absent."
Across the Catholic Diocese of Armidale, schools continue to be open for families who need them to be, and no student will be turned away director of schools Chris Smyth said, but students are 'strongly encouraged' to learn from home.
"We are in constant contact with Catholic Schools NSW and taking advice from NSW Health in order to keep our schools informed and safe," Mr Smyth said.
"We are closely monitoring the situation, with our priority being the health and wellbeing of our staff and students."
Families of students at the diocese schools in Armidale, Barraba, Guyra, Tamworth, Uralla, Manilla, and Quirindi must keep students at home to undertake online learning.
"While Quirindi, Walcha, and Uralla are not a part of the lockdown areas, due to the proximity from Tamworth and Armidale, families of these students are also being encouraged to allow students to learn from home," Mr Smyth said.
Meanwhile, private schools across Armidale activated pre-agreed COVID-19 lockdown action plans on Saturday.
Anticipating that a lockdown was a possibility, The Armidale School (TAS) said it was well-prepared for Saturday morning's announcement, with a 'swift and successful' transition to online learning for staff and students.
"Because of the large number of boarders at the school, all TAS boarding families were contacted as soon as the lockdown was made official on Saturday morning and advised that boarders would need to go home and observe stay-at-home orders," principal Dr Rachel Horton said.
Dr Horton said it was felt that this was in the best interests of the well-being of students to be with their families where possible at this time.
Most families were able to collect their children from TAS before the 5pm lockdown; however, a small number of boarders from interstate or the Greater Sydney area are being accommodated and supported on-site.
Full online learning commenced in middle and senior school on Monday morning, and the contactless collection of workbook packs and zoom classes commenced for junior school students.
A small number of children of essential workers are also being accommodated in supervised areas.
"TAS did very well at managing the online learning environment last year, which has enabled everything to run smoothly this time around," Dr Horton said.
"The commitment of teaching, boarding, IT, and administration staff who worked over the weekend to ensure a successful transition has been greatly appreciated by our school community. While we have been through this before, we just ask our families to stay healthy, stay in touch, support each other and let us know if they need any help."
New England Girls School (NEGS) staff also said they were well-prepared to go immediately into online learning.
"We aim to continue the focused education and learning for all of our young women, girls, and boys regardless of what is thrown at us," said principal Kathy Bishop.
"NEGS Boarding Houses are a safe and nurturing place for our young women. Students could not enter Greater Sydney, Newcastle, and Hunter Regions or return to interstate locations, and some parents were unable to collect their daughters before lockdown.
"It was gratifying that our wonderful boarding staff were so supportive, caring, and ready to look after the girls who were remaining on site. The boarders live here; this is their second home, and they have 50 hectares and green space for their backyard."
Everyone has a story to tell and I like to help them do it.
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