The Victorian Government has announced a back to school plan which will see all students returning to face to face education on January 31.
The plan features mandatory staff vaccination, masks requirements, surveillance testing and a focus on outdoor learning, and will be reviewed by public health teams in four weeks.
In a press conference on Sunday, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews announced the state's back to school plan and spoke of the close co-operation of NSW and Victoria on the reopening of schools.
"I talked to Dominic Perrottet and thanked him for the partnership," he said.
"Having school back day one, term one, is absolutely critical, the benefits of that far outweigh any other policy approach."
Deputy Premier and Minister for Education James Merlino announced that as part of the surveillance testing system, 14 million rapid antigen tests will be delivered to schools and early learning centres for free, with 6.6 million tests to be delivered on day one.
"We will be recommending primary and secondary school students and staff test twice weekly," he said
Specialist schools will be recommended to test five times a week, in order to protect more vulnerable children.
Despite recent extensive nation-wide RAT shortages, the deputy premier was adamant that Victoria's supply of the tests would be able to support the plan.
"We've got all the RAT tests we need for surveillance testing," he said.
Mask rules for schools will remain in place as they were for term four as the state delivers 30 million surgical masks to schools and early learning centres.
Staff and students in year three and above will be required to wear masks, and it remains a recommendation for prep students and year one and two.
In line with the Victorian Government's mandatory third dose regulations, education staff will also have to be triple vaccinated by February 25, or within three months and two weeks of receiving their second dose.
As cases predictably rise once schools return, staff shortages will remain a challenge.
"Inevitably, due to Omicron there will be an increase in cases," Mr Merlino said, "but surveillance testing will drive numbers down."
"Our approach for government schools is tiered, it will vary from school to school."
The tiered approach to staff shortages will see schools initially dealing with shortages internally with the use of casual relief teachers.
The second and third tier of shortages could see classes collaborate for learning where necessary, or calling on the state government's resources of teachers.
"You might have years five and six together in the gym for a week," Mr Merlino said.
"The Victorian government will also have a pool of staff outside of school ready and willing and able to support staffing challenges."
The pool will include retired teachers, administration staff and final year university students.
"Remote learning is an absolute last resort," said the deputy premier.
"As we go through all of those tiers, for a particular time remote learning might be localised to a specific school."
51,000 air purifiers will also be provided to schools for use in indoor classrooms such as music rooms and offices.
However, to encourage outdoor learning, more than 1,800 schools have applied for a shade sail and construction is underway at 300 schools, with 90 per cent to be approved in the first four weeks.
Commencing January 29, the government will trial 30 pop up vaccination clinics in state primary schools.
"The centre of the effort will be vaccination," said paediatrician Sharon Goldfield.
"It will feel different, and parents are probably feeling a little bit anxious and that feels pretty normal.
"We will be a little bit bumpy, it is definitely not going to be perfect."
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