RACP warns against blanket school closures, and says Governments should not ‘extend’ school holidays to manage outbreak

1 July 2021

The Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP) says school closures should only be used as a last resort in containing COVID-19 outbreaks, and only occur on a case-by-case basis such as when a case or contact is detected within a school setting. We commend the WA government for keeping schools open despite a snap lockdown this week.

Physicians and paediatricians are concerned about the serious impacts of closing schools on the mental health, well-being and learning of children and young people. These impacts are greatest for students from disadvantaged backgrounds, and for those with disabilities.

RACP spokesperson and Paediatrician Dr Asha Bowen says “We should be doing everything we can to avoid an extension to school holidays as a measure to contain the spread of COVID-19.

“We must avoid blanket closures of schools because of the detrimental impact these have on the social and psychological wellbeing of students.

“School is not only a place for academic learning but also for connecting with friends and emotional support from teachers and staff. School closures may lead to social isolation and loneliness and have negative impacts on the mental health of children and young people. 

“School closures also place additional economic and psychological stress on families which can increase the risk of family conflict and violence. They also place unintended strain on the health care system as health care staff need to attend to childcare and home schooling.

“A range of measures can be undertaken to manage the health risks associated with schools remaining open such as avoiding large gatherings, minimising adult mixing on the school campus, mask use, and staggering the start and end of the school day.

“Clear protocols for schools on hygiene measures, use of protective equipment, cleaning and physical distancing remain essential.

There is little evidence to show that schools are a high-risk transmission environment for children. But there is a risk there for teachers, which is why we’re calling for all staff in school settings to be given priority access to the vaccine, so they can extend their own safety into their workplace.”

The College is urging State and Federal Governments to urgently prioritise the vaccination of school staff.

“Having vaccinated educational staff will assist in quelling the anxiety around risk and increase the inclination towards letting schools remain open during snap lockdowns.”

The RACP also wants the Federal Government to play a leadership role by raising this issue with States and Territories through the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee. 

“We need a national mitigation plan that prioritises schools remaining open,” Dr Bowen said.

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