Schools freed from COVID clamps, but easing hits wrong note for some
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Schools freed from COVID clamps, but easing hits wrong note for some

Schools have been unshackled from most remaining coronavirus restrictions, clearing the way for a long list of previously banned activities including parental visits, inter-school sports and large indoor graduation ceremonies with families attending.

Even children with mild symptoms will be allowed to attend school under the new rules, provided they have had a negative COVID test.

Most remaining coronavirus restrictions have been lifted in Victorian schools this week.

Most remaining coronavirus restrictions have been lifted in Victorian schools this week.Credit:Jason South

But strict restrictions on music lessons have been kept in place, frustrating teachers who say the restrictions make music classes all but impossible.

The union for state school principals also warned that lifting the restrictions so late in the school year, when plans have been locked in place, could cause chaos and anxiety.

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The Department of Education released new guidelines on Wednesday night informing schools they had reached "the last step" on the road map to reopening.

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"The shift back to standard delivery for so many school operations is a significant outcome that highlights how far Victoria has come on the path towards COVID Normal,” deputy secretary David Howes wrote.

Students in Melbourne missed months of face-to-face learning this year, as Melbourne went into lockdown to curb the spread of coronavirus, and have missed out on many milestones such as graduation ceremonies and camps.

The relaxation of restrictions means young children in grades prep to 2 with persistent mild symptoms, who have tested negative to COVID-19, can return to school even if not entirely free of symptoms such as a cough or runny nose.

Similar easing of restrictions on attendance have been applied to all students who suffer underlying conditions such as asthma and hay fever, although parents are encouraged to get a medical certificate for their child.

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Face masks are no longer mandatory for students when outdoors, except where social distancing is impossible, but must be worn indoors.

"This means that secondary school students aged 12 years and over and school staff should wear a face mask while indoors at schools and while travelling on public transport," the guidelines state.

Elsewhere, parents are once more free to enter school grounds for drop-off and pick-up, and to attend graduation ceremonies of up to 150 indoors or 300 outdoors.

Public events such as fetes, indoor inter-school sports, contact sports, inter-school events such as debating, and classes such as languages where students from multiple schools come together, are free to resume.

Restrictions on kindergarten-to-school and year 6-to-year 7 transition activities have been eased, with group sizes increased to 20 indoors and 50 outdoors.

Australian Principals' Federation president Julie Podbury said many principals were distressed at the thought of meeting the new guidelines and predicted that, with just a few weeks of the school year left, many would ignore them.

"This is a set of guidelines for what you can do; it's not a set of instructions for what you must do," Ms Podbury said.

"It looks as though many schools are going to hold with the arrangements they already had in place."

Many schools have already committed to graduation ceremonies that involve streaming the event to families, as was required under the old guidelines.

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The updated guidelines come as the state records 27 days in a row without a positive COVID case, putting it just one day shy of having eliminated community transmission.

But curbs remain on the use of woodwind and brass instruments, and on singing.

"Use of woodwind instruments and singing and voice projection does entail risk of potential spread of aerosols and droplets," the guidelines state.

"As such only individual tuition and small ensemble groups (five or fewer participants indoors; no limits outdoors) can be conducted, with physical distancing and other hygiene measures where possible."

James Le Fevre, a VCE music teacher at a government school in Melbourne, said he was planning to hold a choir lesson outside on Friday, but cancelled when he saw the 33-degree forecast.

"It's unworkable," Mr Le Fevre said. He questioned why schools were subject to restrictions on indoor singing while karaoke venues can host up to 120 people now.

An alliance of music teachers is pushing for a full return of music education in Victoria.

Formals are also still off-limits.

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