Virus warning: Parents keeping kids home risk prosecution
DEFIANT parents who keep kids home from school for fear of catching coronavirus are risking prosecution.
Education Queensland is cracking down on truancy, and ordered principals to record "unauthorised'' absences by students who are not sick or in COVID-19 quarantine.
An Education Queensland spokesman said yesterday that "the absences of students who are not unwell, do not meet Queensland Health's requirements for quarantine, or who are being kept at home without medical advice will be considered 'unauthorised'.''
Parents who keep their kids home could be referred to police, under an Education Queensland policy issued in January.
It says parents have a "legal obligation'' to send children to school unless they have a "reasonable excuse''.
"Parents may be prosecuted if they do not fulfil their legal obligations in regard to enrolment and attendance of their child at school, or participation in an eligible option,'' the policy says.
"An authorised officer from either a school or region can seek consent from their regional director to refer a case to the Queensland Police Service to consider prosecution.''
Queensland Teachers' Union president Kevin Bates yesterday said he had reports of high absentee rates among both staff and students in up to a dozen schools.
"I'm getting constant calls from principals and school staff, reporting higher than usual rates of student absence and staff absence and difficulties replacing teachers who are unable to work,'' he said.
"There are more students than usual that are away and they are having difficulty replacing staff.
"It has caused a big pressure in the system and particularly on our principal members.''
Dr Bates said teachers should not be expected to provide online work for students who stay home voluntarily.
Queensland Association of State School Principals president Leslie Single said principals had been reporting student absence far more than usual.
"Of course there are extenuating circumstances where someone in the family has been diagnosed or an elderly family member,'' she said.
"But where possible students should still be coming to school.''
Catholic School Parents Queensland representative Carmel Nash said there had been a "rise in absenteeism across the board''.
"People are doing what they think is best for their families,'' she said.
The Education Queensland spokesman said families who choose to keep healthy children at home could access curriculum materials on the department's website.
"The materials will be taken from the department's existing Learning Place and made publicly available for families,'' he said.
West End State School principal Kim McNamara has written to parents that "some families have made the decision to self-quarantine''.
"This is a family decision and we understand this decision is made with your context in mind,'' she said.
"If you choose to quarantine your family, our teacher will endeavour to supply some schoolwork for your child/ren.
"Please remember that they are doing this in their own time … any work supplied is to be monitored by parents and carers.''
The Education Queensland directive says students who meet Queensland Health requirements for self-quarantine should be marked absent with "attendance not required''.
"This absence is considered a reasonable excuse and will not count as an absence on the student's report card nor impact the school's attendance data,'' it says.
Queensland Health requires people to self-isolate if they have returned from overseas or been in close contact with a COVID-19 case within 14 days.
Education Queensland says students with COVID-19 should be marked absent for illness - but need a medical clearance certificate before they return to school.
"Students who are unwell for any reason are not expected to attend school and should stay home,'' the memo says.
"These students will be marked with the absence reason code "illness and medical appointments''.
Originally published as Virus warning: Parents keeping kids home risk prosecution