MORE than 20 Toronto High School staff members are understood to be planning to call in sick to work on Tuesday, in a desperate plea to encourage families to keep students home from school.
A teacher, who declined to be named, told the Newcastle Herald more than 20 staff members had decided on Monday to take the drastic action and leave students supervised by a skeleton staff.
The teacher said two students were in self isolation after being exposed to confirmed cases of COVID-19.
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"But they were at school all last week and the department couldn't tell us what classes they were in," they said.
"Staff are concerned for themselves and their families.
"We do not feel confident we are keeping us or anyone else safe.
"The workplace heath and safety conditions are not at the level we feel is acceptable - there's no hand sanitiser apart from what teachers have brought in themselves.
"We don't feel there are enough safety guidelines in, we're not doing enough to stop the spread and that's the same for every school."
The teacher said staff wanted to send a strong message to families.
"You need to keep your kids off school," the teacher said.
"We really want to take a stand and make sure people understand that school is not a safe environment for anybody, students or teachers, at the moment."
A Department of Education spokesperson said "any staff sick leave will be dealt with under the normal provisions".
The teacher was one of several across the Hunter decrying a lack of clear government direction over school closures.
"It was not clear advice," the teacher said.
"People need definitive advice to stay at home - and an instruction to stay at home - so we don't spread this even further.
"We wouldn't do this unless we felt people were in grave danger."
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NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian encouraged families on Monday morning to keep pupils at home, but said schools would remain open for those that had no option but to send children.
"The health advice has not changed," Ms Berejiklian said.
"However, for practical reasons in NSW we will be encouraging parents to keep their children at home."
She said there would be one unit of teaching for both school and home.
She had been expected to announce closures, to follow the shutdown of non-essential services.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Sunday night there had been "no change" to health advice and children should attend on Monday.
Several in the education sector said there was no need for schools to be open with full staff considering dwindling student numbers.
The NSW Teachers Federation said teachers and principals had been "thrust onto the frontline of this crisis".
"There is but scant reference to the safety of teachers and principals, and other school employees, in dealing with this crisis," the federation said in a statement.
"We have lost confidence in our elected leaders.
"Decisions are being made by people who have no idea how our schools and TAFE colleges function or what is happening inside them."
The federation said it didn't make sense for schools to remain open given other restrictions.
It said social distancing was impossible to implement.
"We are told children are low risk agents for the virus at school, but suddenly become high risk agents in shopping centres and playgrounds while also ignoring the fact that tens of thousands are travelling on trains and buses each morning and afternoon," the statement said.
"We are told there is concern about kids infecting grandparents but not teachers, many of whom are also grandparents."
It said it wanted systems to provide "complete health protection" for teachers and "complete logistical, industrial and professional support" to enable a core staff to provide supervision for children of parents in essential services or who cannot provide care.
Independent Education Union Hunter organiser Therese Fitzgibbon called for an immediate end of term for all students, saying the government advice was "vague" and had confused parents.
She said by officially closing schools, some parents may be able to access special leave to care for children.
She said the government needed to help schools transition to skeleton staff. "Teachers are furious, they feel they've been hung out to dry and forced to work in petri dishes of viruses," she said.
"They're not frontline workers, they're not emergency personnel, they don't have personal protective equipment."
Belmont High said a student had returned a positive result for the virus.
"As this student has not had any close contact with the school and was not involved with any school activities there is no need for the school to take any action," relieving principal Tony Keevill told families.
A Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle spokesperson said a parent at St Patrick's Primary Cessnock was in self isolation after a relative who returned from overseas tested positive.
"The school is closed [on Monday] for cleaning, this is an isolated incident due to extenuating circumstances."
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