Schools won't close if there's a positive case of COVID-19 detected throughout term one, while parents for new kindergarten students will be allowed onto school grounds for their first day of school as part of the NSW Government's back-to-school plan.
Premier Dominic Perrottet and education Minister Sarah Mitchell revealed the return to school plan on Sunday morning, with all NSW schools due back on February 1 at the latest.
Rapid antigen tests are being rolled out to all NSW schools and by Tuesday Minister Mitchell estimates there will be 6 million tests ready to go.
Two of those tests will be used per child, per week to help with the early identification of COVID-19 in classrooms across the state.
Schools will be in touch with parents to coordinate the distribution of those tests. The tests will be conducted at home.
Minister Mitchell said schools will no longer close when positive cases are detected. She said parents will be notified of new cases in each cohort, and asked to monitor for symptoms in their own children.
The Premier said the closure of schools "will be a last resort".
The plan details the use of RATs as a key part of term one - which will be used for the first month of the school term, and then assessed thereafter, Minister Mitchell said - while a range of measures will be familiar to staff and students already.
Cohorts will be in place to reduce the change of mingling between school year groups, while masks will be mandatory for high school students and staff.
Mask wearing is highly recommended for students in years 3 and above in primary school settings.
The range of measures will ensure, the Government says, that activities like sport, music, excursions and assemblies will be able to be held, in COVID-safe ways.
Mr Perrottet said there will be challenges along the way, but "we're very confident with the plan we have in place".
"Other states don't have the access to rapid antigen tests like we do. We have 150 million tests and that's allowed us to get kids back in the classroom in a safe way."
We've been working day and night to get kids back to school in a safe manner.- Premier Dominic Perrottet
NSW's chief health officer Dr Kerry Chant said parents should expect to see cases among students and staff at schools.
Ms Mitchell said staff and students should test before returning to school.
"If positive, let your principal know, as well as NSW Health, as per normal testing procedure," she added.
"If students are at home, material will be provided at home to support learning from home. However, if you're unwell, please rest."
She said two parents per child will be allowed on school grounds for the first day of kindergarten students.
"It's a significant day for families," she said.
"We've been working day and night to get kids back to school in a safe manner," Mr Perrottet added.
"It is where our kids learn the best and where opportunity is created. Importantly, we want them back in schools in a safe way.
"As a parent i know parents are anxious about kids going back to school. We can ensure we do so in a safe way. Part of that plan involved Rapid antigen tests for primary, secondary student snad teachers in the state.
The plan is backed by Independent Schools NSW CEO Dr Geoff Newcombe and Catholic Schools NSW CEO Dallas McInerney.
Mr McInerney said "continuity of learning and safe learning experiences for staff and students" was at the centre of the catholic school system, and the Government's plan fitted in with that mantra.
"We're looking forward to welcoming them back for term one," he added.
"With the experience of last two years, parents should be confident that students' interests are at heart and the learning journey continues as best it can."
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