NSW Education's touted plan for a staged return to classrooms at its public schools has been thrown out, with students instead returning to school full-time from next Monday.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian announced at the COVID-19 press conference this morning, where she was flanked by NSW Minister for Education Sarah Mitchell.
While news of the impending announcement appeared to have been leaked to some media outlets the previous night, it caught many off guard, with teachers leading the charge on social media, angry that they had learned the information second hand.
Some parents were also upset that the promised phased return to full-time learning had been scrapped.
Ms Mitchell denied accusations that the NSW Teachers Federation and teachers learned about the back to school date from the media.
She said school principals were advised "last night", while there had been ongoing talks with the NSW Teachers Federation and principals associations in the lead-up to the announcement.
She said she planned to meet with the federation again today.
According to the NSW Education website, the phased approach to face-to-face learning plan drawn up in consultation with the government would have seen students gradually return to school, starting with one day a week during phase one, then two days a week under phase two, before students return full-time but with social-distancing measures as part of phase three.
Instead, all students will be expected to return to school on Monday, with Ms Mitchell warning that "unexplained absences" will be followed up.
"We expect students to attend. It is a normal school week by next week. Rolls will be marked as normal and unexplained absences will be followed up," she said.
Parents of children with medical conditions will need to speak with their school principal, she said.
Ms Berejiklian said the government had used the past two months to "prepare our schools for a COVID-safe environment" through added hygiene and cleaning measures.
"And I am very pleased to announce that from next Monday, schools will be going back to full-time face-to-face teaching," she said.
The government said the success of the phased return to face-to-face teaching had demonstrated the education system and the community was ready for school to continue full-time.
Ms Berejiklian said a return to full-time face-to-face teaching and learning was crucial for the educational progress of every child in NSW.
"Since starting a managed return to the classroom, we have seen a strong degree of confidence from our school communities in managing COVID-19 and a clear desire for all students to be back at school," Ms Berejiklian said.
She said schools would need to keep up increased cleaning, access to hygiene supplies and compliance with hygiene practices.
But while she said "the health advice is very clear; a return to full-time face-to-face teaching is safe", she warned school closures caused by community outbreaks of COVID-19 would be the norm.
"It will be common for schools to be shut down temporarily. It will be common for a particular school to take extra measures if there's a community breakout in that community with cases. And we just have to accept that," she said.
She said schools would be shut down if there is a case in an individual community.
Ms Mitchell said she was eager to see students back in the classroom full-time.
"My priority is the education of our children. We know that parents across NSW share our desire for students to be back in school," she said.
"Schools will need to maintain the measures and precautions they have put in place for the foreseeable future, including no assemblies and excursions."
She said parents were also asked to respect new measures, such as staggered drop-off and pick-up times, and no access for non-essential visitors."
Teachers would also be required to assess individual students, she said.
"Teachers will be focused on identifying where their students are at in their education and we will be supporting them to recognise and assist those students who need additional help," she said.