The ACT government has confirmed Canberra schools will effectively shut down to most students from Tuesday, after comments from the Prime Minister suggested they could stay open.
Education Minister Yvette Berry announced the move on Sunday evening, shortly after ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr said all non-essential services would be closed.
The move is at least in part in response to concerns from anxious teachers.
Ms Berry said schools would be open on Monday, as normal, with the exception of Lyneham High, where a student had been diagnosed with coronavirus. On Tuesday all schools would go pupil free.
"What that means is no student will be coming to school. Schools will still be operational in that teachers and school staff will be at school on Tuesday March 24, until the school holidays begin," she said.
"What teachers and school staff will be doing is preparing to move to a different kind of learning, using all of the online opportunities that we have in the ACT."
Ms Berry said the pupil free days would give schools and teachers time to prepare for a "range of learning delivery options, including online, similar to how distance education is provided in remote areas".
"The ACT Education Directorate will provide options for school-age children whose parents and carers need to continue delivering essential services for Canberra during this period," she said.
"Schools are not closing."
She said the school system would move to the alternative teaching models from term two.
Later in the evening, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said schools would stay open for parents who wanted to send their children. But parents could choose to keep their children at home and schools would move to distance learning for children that stayed home.
NSW and the ACT have already announced that schools will move to online learning for most students. Chief Minister Andrew Barr described it as a "distance education program for most students on Tuesday as well as continuing to provide a face to face education program for those students who need it".
Mr Morrison said while schools could move to distance learning, they would remain open for parents who wished to send their children.
"For many parents, for those who maybe both parents are working, those might be an essential occupations, nurses and doctors, police, paramedics and things like this, this is very important," he said.
"But even more important is we want our children to continue to get an education. There are many things that we're going to have to sacrifice because of this coronavirus. One of the things - premiers, chief ministers and I - are very keen to try and avoid, is having to sacrifice the education of our children. I do not want to see our children lose an entire year of their education."
Mr Morrison said parents must take responsibility for children who stayed home.
"It is not an excuse for them to go down to the shopping centre or to go and congregate somewhere else or potentially put themselves in contact with the vulnerable and elderly population. If you choose to keep your child at home, you are responsible for the conduct and behaviour of your children ... It is important that they observe the strict social distancing arrangements," he said.
Mr Barr's office could not be reached immediately for clarification.
Earlier, Ms Berry said she knew there would be lots of questions about the move, and would provide more details on Monday.
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"This will be a different kind of education for both our staff and for our students. Now I do need to make it clear that all our schools are still safe places to be," she said.
"We are encouraging all our staff to remain at school and work on how we can make sure that our students will get the education that they need
"The reason why we have decided to move to pupil-free days from Tuesday until the school holidays is to continue that education in a different kind of way, moving to more online education.
"But we also acknowledge and recognise that our school community, particularly our teachers, are getting more and more anxious and that is making it difficult for them to offer a great quality education in person.
"Some of that education will still occur in person, but from Tuesday teachers and school staff will be working to move to more online education."
Before the announcement, Ms Berry said the government had already begun preparing some online learning programs to assist students learning at home.
"Our schools are already conducting online learning through mathematics and reading and these can also be continued at home through the online space," she said.
"We are well-placed for that shift, and have invested significantly in devices across our ACT school system to ensure we have that digital capability."
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