The Legal Obligations of Parents Whose Children Are Learning From Home

by Sonia Hickey

A lot of Mums and Dads have just found out that school teachers do a very difficult job. Teaching your kids to tie their shoelaces, or cook a meal, or clean the windows, might be one thing, but actually guiding them through the school curriculum is something else entirely.

But, along with most other aspects of our lives, COVID-19 has changed education too.

Schools are still open

Last month, the Premier of New South Wales decided to keep schools open for parents who need them, but encouraged families who could supervise students at home to remove their children from the collective learning environment, to avoid the spread of COVOID-19.

And with end the End of Term 1 only a few weeks away a lot of parents just decided to put their kids’ health first, and grin and bear the complications of having them underfoot while trying to work from home too.

But as has become clear over the past couple of weeks, society is changing at a rapid pace as we cope with the COVID-19 crisis. As yet there is no decision on whether NSW schools will completely reopen for Term 2, or whether the status quo will remain. It’s also entirely possible – depending on the spread of COVID-19 that schools will close.

What does the law say?

The law says that parents and guardians of children between the ages of six and 16 must enroll in either distance learning, homeschool, or a local school.

Homeschooling is actually permitted in New South Wales, and it is overseen by the NSW Education Standards Authority (NESA).  As many as 10,000 kids are registered for homeschooling.

Just to be clear though, homeschooling is not the same as the situation we’re temporarily in. Students who are at home, but who ordinarily attend school, are ‘home learners.’

For those parents and carers who have suddenly found themselves with students ‘learning from home,’ the New South Wales Department of Education has written guidelines for both parents and students.

Responsibilities of parents / carers

The department outlines that the priority obligation of parents and guardians is to support students at home, by:

  • establishing routines and expectations
  • setting aside a space for your child to work in
  • monitoring communications from your child’s teachers
  • beginning and ending each day by asking about your child’s learning
  • taking an active role in helping your children with their learning
  • encouraging physical activity and/or exercise
  • remembering that your child might be stressed or worried during this time
  • monitoring how much time your child is spending online
  • keeping your children social, but setting rules around their social media interactions.

Responsibilities of students

  • working in the safe, comfortable, quiet space in their home that has been set aside for them
  • regularly monitoring digital platforms and communication to check for announcements and feedback from teachers
  • completing tasks honestly and doing their best work
  • doing their best to meet timelines, commitments, and due dates
  • communicating with their teachers if they cannot meet deadlines or require additional support
  • collaborating and supporting classmates in their learning
  • complying with the department’s Student use of digital devices and online services policy
  • communicating with school staff as different needs arise.

Schools are required to assist students and parents to access resources. If students don’t have access to computer facilities or the internet, parents/carers need to make arrangements with the school for other learning tools.

While students are at home teachers will aim to provide support via email, online chat facilities in learning platforms, video conferencing facilities or phone call. Policies are in place to support this.

Keep up the studies

Because COVID-19 has presented a totally new situation for many families, the Department of Education is still refining it’s policies, procedures and delivery. But the Department’s overriding message to both parents and students is that continuity of learning is important right now, and that being at home because COVID-19, shouldn’t provide a disruption to learning, until the official Easter holiday break. If the current situation continues for several months to come, then students who have not participated in school work could find themselves falling behind their peers.

For some parents, it’s an interesting opportunity to be more engaged with their children’s learning. For others, perhaps more so those who are paying thousands of dollars in private school fees the idea of having to be a teacher and a parent is much less appealing.

Author

Sonia Hickey

Sonia Hickey is a freelance writer, magazine journalist and owner of 'Woman with Words'. She has a strong interest in social justice, and is a member of the Sydney Criminal Lawyers® content team.

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