Speaking Schools’ COVID-19 Action Plan
4 March 2020
Last updated 4 January 2022
As of early January 2022, COVID-19 is moving towards an endemic state within NSW.
At the time of writing, we know the following:
- 93.5% of the 16+ population and 78% of children aged between 12 – 15 are fully vaccinated;
- a vaccination program for children aged 5 – 11 is scheduled to begin on 10 January 2022;
- evidence shows that all vaccines used in Australia considerably reduce the transmissibility of COVID-19, and substantially reduce both mild and severe symptoms;
- the number of people who present with severe illness has been dropping considerably as the population has become inoculated;
- around 98% of children who catch COVID-19 have either mild disease or are completely asymptomatic;
- the spread of COVID-19 infections in educational settings is very low, with only 1.7% of close contacts in primary school settings catching the virus (compared to 70%+ in household settings); and
- no children have died from COVID-19 in New South Wales.
Whilst children appear to not be at high risk from COVID-19, and the vaccination program means the risks involved with COVID-19 have been steadily decreasing, SSA places their safety (and the safety of our coaches) as our highest priority. This is the first tier of our teaching philosophy.
SSA has made the determination that, taking into account the range of safeguards outlined below, it is now safe to run in-person classes in Sydney.
Below is our COVID-19 Action Plan for our current and upcoming programs. It is designed to minimise the risk of transmission at our programs, and takes a number of additional steps beyond what most Government Schools are currently doing.
It will be regularly revised and updated to ensure that SSA continues to be at the forefront of best practice program delivery.
Action Plan Summary
Members of our Management Team have completed the Infection Control Training provided by the Australian Department of Health, and have used this knowledge (as well as our own research) to develop our COVID-19 Action Plan.
Our COVID-19 Action Plan has four different elements:
- Symptom testing
- Limited exposure
- Enhanced sanitation
Using a combination of these four elements, we hope to remove the chance of COVID-19 spreading at any of our programs. Please read below to see how each of these elements work in practice.
Element #1 – Vaccination
We require that all staff at SSA who are involved with in-person programs are vaccinated or hold a medical exemption, both for their safety and the safety of others.
Whilst no staff members have refused vaccination at this point, if they were to do so, they would only be allowed to run online classes with SSA.
Element #2 – Symptom Testing
The most common symptoms of COVID-19 are:
- shortness of breath; and
- flu-like symptoms (e.g. cough, sore throat & fatigue).
Whilst not everyone will show these symptoms (and many children do not), they are the best indication that someone is unwell before they are tested.
Noting that most transmissions are the result of symptomatic cases, it is our policy under the COVID-19 Action Plan to exclude all students who show symptoms, who have tested positive, or who are awaiting test results. This will be done through the following steps:
- Requiring that parents do not send their children to any of our physical programs if they (or any other member of their household) have returned a positive COVID-19 test, are awaiting results from a COVID-19 test, or are displaying symptoms consistent with COVID-19.
- Requiring that any coaches or management staff who are in similar circumstances to stay home and (if appropriate) get tested as soon as reasonably practicable (if they have not already done so).
- Ensuring that temperature checks using non-contact thermometers are conducted before students attend any of our classes, and excluding any students presenting with a fever.
- Training coaches to spot the symptoms of COVID-19, and providing a space that can be used to isolate any symptomatic students or staff.
- Providing parents with credits or refunds for any missed classes as a result of adhering to the above policies.
Should anyone present at our programs subsequently test positive, we will let parents of all close contacts know as soon as possible and shut down all in-person programs that may have been impacted. This will be in addition to any steps that the NSW Government takes.
By adhering to the above two elements, it is very unlikely that anyone infected with COVID-19 will be present at any of our programs. That said, given at least some transmission results from asymptomatic cases, there are two further elements to our COVID-19 Action Plan to help ensure that any residual possibility of transmission is minimised as much as possible.
Element #3 – Limited Exposure
The virus that causes COVID-19 is predominantly spread by respiratory droplets, generally produced when someone coughs or sneezes. These are usually transmitted via close contact – defined as 15 minutes of face-to-face contact with a person, or a prolonged period (more than two hours) in an enclosed space with a person – but may also be caught by touching infected surfaces, and then touching the eyes, nose or mouth.
In order to limit exposure to others, there are a number of steps that we can take to ensure that students are kept as safe as possible. Below are just some of the steps we’ll be taking to make sure everyone feels secure attending programs.
Drop Off and Pick Up
- No parents or other adults will be allowed on campus whilst there is active community transmission, with drop-off and pick-up being done at the front of the venue (where possible without parents leaving the car).
- For our holiday workshops, if there is active community transmission occurring in Sydney, our staff members will be required to wear masks whilst interacting with parents, and parents are strongly encouraged to wear masks as well.
- For our holiday workshops, drop-off and pick-up times will be staggered for different age groups, with special exemptions and supervision provided for families with students in different classes.
- Wherever possible, drop off and pick up is to occur outdoors to help minimise potential transmission.
- All in-person parent presentations have been suspended indefinitely at in-person holiday workshops (although we will do our best to send videos to all parents of their child’s final presentation), to limit adult-child interactions (unless we are able to ensure social distancing at particular venues – this assessment is done on a case-by-case basis).
In the Classroom
- Although not required under the Public Health Order, and noting that NSW public schools are not required to do the same, we will restrict student numbers so classes (where practicable) adhere to any square meterage rule required by the NSW Government for other businesses (this is currently one person per 2 sqm).
- Students will be assigned seats during each class and will be required to stay in those seats for all sessions on the same day, to help prevent indirect spread.
- All desks will be spaced as much as possible to ensure the maximum possible distance between students.
- Students will be required to bring their own stationery, food and drink, and will not be allowed to share with other students.
- Whilst still running a range of fun and engaging classroom activities, any that require movement, touching or face-to-face discussion will be modified as best as possible to remove the risk of transmission.
- Class sessions will last no longer than two hours, to ensure that students are not in an enclosed space with other students for a “prolonged period“.
Holiday Workshops – Bubble System
Given we have a number of students simultaneously present at our holiday workshops, we are putting in place some special measures to ensure that students are kept as safe as possible. We’ve dubbed this the ‘Bubble System’.
The core tenant of the Bubble System is to keep students separated according to the class they are enrolled in. This involves a number of steps, including the following:
- classes will, to the best of our ability, not be allowed to mingle throughout the day, either during class time or during breaks;
- staff members will be required to wear masks in all circumstances where they are not actively teaching in their own classroom, and will only enter another class if required;
- when students leave classrooms and enter common indoor space, they will be required (if above 12 years old) or requested (if under 12) to wear a mask, and will be moved as a class unit if everyone is leaving the room (noting that students should have been wearing masks inside the classroom regardless);
- drop-off and pick-up times will be staggered for different age groups, with special exemptions and supervision provided for families with students in different classes; and
- recess and lunch breaks will be staggered by age group, and students in different age groups will be physically and/or temporally separated from those of other age groups.
Students & Masks
Throughout the pandemic, we have been guided by the NSW Government on the use of masks.
At this stage, noting that active community transmission is likely to continue indefinitely:
- staff members will be required to wear masks when interacting with parents and in indoor common areas (coaches will be able to remove their masks where it is necessary to properly run their class);
- parents are strongly encouraged to wear masks when dropping off or picking up their children;
- children over the age of 12 are required to wear masks whilst indoors (but may take them off outdoors or when they are presenting); and
- children under the age of 12 are strongly encouraged to wear masks indoors.
We will update the above requirements as the NSW Government updates its guidance.
Element #4 – Enhanced Sanitation
The virus that causes COVID-19 is predominantly spread by respiratory droplets, generally produced when someone coughs or sneezes. These cannot go through your skin – in order to catch the virus, the respiratory droplets must reach your eyes, nose or mouth. Whilst this can occur directly if someone was to cough without covering their mouth, it often happens when someone touches something that is infected, and then subsequently touches their face (which is often an unconscious action).
Given this, and as outlined by the Australian Department of Health, the “most important thing you can do to protect yourself is to wash your hands regularly”. As such, at all of our venues:
- Hand sanitiser and tissues will be readily available;
- Students and staff will be required to sanitise their hands upon entering and exiting the classroom (e.g. upon arrival, before recess, after lunch, going to the toilet etc.);
- Students and staff will also be required to sanitise their hands after coughing or sneezing; and
- Coaches are trained in proper handwashing technique and will, to the best of their ability, remind students to wash their hands properly.
This is in addition to encouraging other good health practices, such as coughing into one’s elbow and throwing out used tissues immediately.
In addition to encouraging good personal hygiene, we will regularly be cleaning our classrooms and break areas to ensure that students are as safe as possible.
This will include:
- Ventilating indoor spaces as well as possible in the circumstances;
- Cleaning all regularly touched surfaces before and after classes with disinfectant; and
- Regularly tidying the classroom environment, so students don’t touch things used by other students.
Ongoing Online Programs
Since mid-March 2020, we have been offering online programs to students all over Australia. We have no plans to remove these programs, and will continue to have them as an option for parents who would prefer not to attend physical programs, can’t easily reach any of our physical locations, or if restrictions mean we are once again required to put our in-person workshops on hold.
Students and staff participate in these programs from home, so there is no face-to-face contact between coaches and students, and thus no chance of contagion. These programs will continue to operate normally.
SSA has put in place a policy that specifies the obligations and responsibilities of its management team, coaching staff and partner organisations.
Please get in touch if you would like a copy of the policy.