The president of the NSW Teachers Federation has condemned contradictions and inconsistencies surrounding the state and federal governments' push to return children and teachers back to the classroom for the new term.
Angelo Gavrielatos said teachers were struggling under the extreme weight of inconsistencies.
As NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian today flagged a staggered return of NSW students to face-to-face teaching in the third week of term, and assured the public that schools were safe for students and teachers, Mr Gavrielatos pointed to the danger of contradictory advice from medical experts and an ad hoc approach to managing the problem.
"School teachers and principals are dealing with so many mixed messages at present," he said.
"We are told schools are safe for children but we are also told playgrounds are not safe for children.
"We are told schools are safe for children but kids shouldn't be in shopping centres and other public places.
"We are told schools are safe for children and teachers, yet we are told children should not be looked after by their grandparents, ignoring the fact that many teachers are grandparents."
Mr Gavrielatos said everyone understood that social distancing is vitally important and that there's a whole raft of measures in place that relate to restrictions on movements. He said it was confusing that these restrictions were not being applied to schools.
"How do we reconcile these contradictions?"
"We put a lot of these questions to the NSW Deputy Chief Medical Officer, and we asked him, 'Can you reconcile these contradictions', and he said 'no, I can not'."
Tamworth primary school teacher Tim Unwin accepts that teachers play a pivotal role in the current crisis.
"We're a key link in the chain allowing people to get back to work. We may not be on the same level as hospital workers but it's a similar type of risk," Mr Unwin said.
"We want to be positive. We are teachers. That's our vocation.
"The conversations we are having have been around what is beneficial for the kids.
"If it gives the kids a sense of normality, if it helps them and their families, well that's as it is."
"I'm not in a high risk category but I have family members that are. I have a three-month-old daughter and that does give you a different perspective," Mr Unwin said.
"I have to be prepared to defer to people who have a better understanding of the bigger picture than I do.
"Yes, I have concerns that there are decisions being made that are economically driven rather than educationally driven, but at the same time there is an argument that children learn better in a classroom than they do at home and I accept that."
Mr Unwin said he was concerned about the lack of clarity in terms of government messaging.
"I don't think the prime minister's announcement yesterday that he wants everybody back at school in Term Two is very helpful," he said.
"In NSW we still have two weeks left of holidays. We have no idea what the numbers of infected people will be in two weeks."
What needs to be appreciated is that teachers and principals are mums and dads, uncles and aunts, grandparents, brothers and sisters and they have to deal with this crisis like every other family.
Mr Gavrielatos agreed the Prime Minister's comments were confusing the issue.
"Mr Morrison's intervention has been most unhelpful," he said.
"Yesterday he said kids should be back in school but that is at odds with what premiers are saying."
"There are suggestions that there is to be some sort of national consistency when it comes to schools. Victorian schools have already resumed. Queensland is due back next week. NSW isn't due to return until April 27. What consistency can be achieved under these circumstances?"
Mr Gavrielatos pointed out that teachers are also dealing with rapidly evolving medical advice, with social distancing regulations changing quickly and medical opinion apparently varying from state to state.
"What needs to be appreciated is that teachers and principals are mums and dads, uncles and aunts, grandparents, brothers and sisters, and they have to deal with this crisis like every other family.
"Beyond that teachers have been thrown into the front line of this crisis, having to bear even greater responsibilities.
"School sites are not just populated by students. There are schools that have staff of up to 300 adults, which obviously poses issues when it comes to social distancing and restricted movements."
"There are additional factors and complications. The prospect of thousands and thousands of kids criss-crossing suburbs on buses and trains needs to be considered in these times.
"We know the pandemic is hurting the economy and impacting society in an unprecedented way, but at the end of the day it's about people keeping safe.
"Decisions are being made on the basis of risk management, but there are real people, real faces behind this pandemic," he said.