The Nationals leader and Member for Murray Plains, Peter Walsh, says regional Victorian students – especially those at smaller schools – will be left at a significant disadvantage under the Andrews Labor Government’s staggered return to school plan.
Mr Walsh said The Nationals raised the issue from the floor of the Parliament this week, explaining the problems.
He said the Government was told the decision to allow only some year levels to return to onsite learning did not go far enough.
Research released on Wednesday by the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute found lockdowns and school closures – not COVID – are the main risks to children and adolescent health in this pandemic.
“The government must urgently outline a plan to return all year levels to school,” Mr Walsh said.
“The Premier can no longer ignore the significant harm of school closures and lockdowns on the mental health of our youngest Victorians.”
Mr Walsh said once again the city-centric one-size-fits-all approach adopted by Labor was nonsensical in country communities.
“The return of year 12s, for example, in bigger sites such as Swan Hill, Kerang or Echuca, can mean more than 100 students on site,” he said.
“Meanwhile, our smallest primary schools in rural communities across my electorate and the state, cannot have their students back at school – and we are talking whole-of-school numbers starting at just two.”
Mr Walsh said he had an example of six schools combined with a total of just 91 students.
“These restrictions are incredibly unfair and divisive, particularly for families with kids across multiple year levels.”
He said some Victorian students had lost over 150 days of face-to-face learning because of lockdowns.
“Parents are contacting me at their wits’ end, because their kids just want to get back to school – they want to learn from their teachers, and they want to see their friends,” Mr Walsh said.
“The government can’t keep hiding behind health advice it won’t even release to the public.
“It’s time Daniel Andrews gave us a workable plan.”