parent opinion

"I’m an ex-teacher, and I can tell you that social distancing at schools will not work."

“People are naturally anxious about the issue of schools,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said at a press conference on Sunday in Sydney.

And with this anxiety in mind, the government decided not to close schools down, but to implement social distancing as a precautionary measure.

NSW Department of Education Secretary Mark Scott explained that social distancing measures would be adopted by schools from today.

“From Monday onwards, I expect school assemblies and substantial gatherings to be cancelled, along with all excursions,” he said.

Watch: Mamamia’s Claire Murphy breaks down your most asked questions about COVID-19. Post continues below. 

Video by MMC

The PM also added that students socially distancing themselves from each other was “pretty straightforward”.

“You are (to stay) about 1.5 metres away. Ensuring that you refrain from that sort of physical contact, whether it might be a handshake or something a bit more intimate, unless my close family and friends. It’s all common sense,” he said.

Well ScoMo, in my opinion, this advice is ludicrous. And something I dare say you will change your mind on.

While the cancellation of camps, excursions and assemblies are indeed common sense, social distancing of school-aged children of 1.5 metres is not – in fact, it’s far from it.

Why? Because it is impossible.

And asking educational institutions to do this is absurd and unfair because you are setting them a task they simply cannot enforce, cannot monitor and cannot achieve.

It has nothing to do with their ability, their efforts, their care or their lack of trying, it is purely because social distancing at schools cannot be done for a multitude of reasons.

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As a parent, an ex-teacher and a current education sector professional myself, what I know about both secondary and primary schools is that they are communities. Communities that within their definition “are a group of people in the same space” but also community in spirit – caring and inclusive.

shona hendley
Image: Instagram @shonamarion.

Schools are communities that every other day are taught to share, to support one another, to work together, to literally lend a helping hand if someone needs it. Students are encouraged to play with each other, to be inclusive and to not leave others out. And because kids, especially at primary levels, are the absorbent sponges of listening and learning that they are and because they are kind-natured, they do it.

In fact, it is so ingrained within them, so much a part of their school values, rules, their everyday learning, that it is literally a part of them even when they aren’t at school.

But now you are telling them to stop. Just. Like. That.

You are telling kids (or telling teachers and parents to tell kids) to stop lending a helping hand; you are saying stop being inclusive and definitely don’t share.

And while it might make sense to us as adults in the context of all that is happening, these are kids and they don’t understand why every other day they have been expected to do one thing and now they are being told to do the opposite. And understandably so.

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Because no, ScoMo, it just doesn’t work like that. Not because you decided that from Monday it had to. Not for them.

Just because you said yesterday afternoon in a media conference to keep 1.5 metres of social distance does not mean that all the five-year-olds won’t go up to hug their friends when they see them at school (because I saw them do it this morning when I dropped off my daughters).

Just because you said that “social distancing is pretty straight forward” it doesn’t mean that kids will stop their hand-clapping game at recess.

And just because you’ve said to “refrain from physical contact”, it won’t mean that all the kids will put away the sports equipment, won’t monkey across the monkey bars together, or won’t play tag or handball or whatever game they always play in the schoolyard.

They are a community of children where social distancing is the absolute opposite of all they are taught and all that is intrinsic to who they are.

Alongside expecting an entire community to do all that is against their nature and socialisation, you have also failed to take into account the logistics of how this can even happen.

Just because you want people to socially distance from each other, doesn’t mean it can miraculously occur while they work within their existing facilities.

Because the fact is, during class time students sit next to each other at desks, tables, on the floor, in the gym, on PE equipment, in labs, in studios, in a variety of areas where close proximity is encouraged.

Mamamia’s daily news podcast, The Quicky, finds out what life is really like in COVID-19 lockdown. Post continues below.

Many schools are full, with no spare spaces to move to. So, in many cases, this ideal you’ve set up of socially distancing cannot occur. There’s not enough space, not enough resources and not enough people power to do it.

So no - social distancing at schools is “not common sense”, it is not “pretty straight forward” and it cannot be achieved.

For more on this topic:

Shona Hendley, Mother of Goats, Cats and Humans is a freelance writer from Victoria. An ex secondary school teacher, Shona has a strong interest in education and is a passionate animal lover and advocate. You can follow her on Instagram @shonamarion

Feature Image: Getty.

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