COVID-19 Challenges & insurance implications for the Australian education sector
In the face of a pandemic, organisations across Australia are taking action to protect both their people and operations – schools are certainly no exception.
COVID-19 has created various challenges for the Australian education sector that are evolving and time sensitive. Aside from needing to take care of their employees, schools also have the responsibility of protecting their students during this time. Moreover, any decisions, like school closures or schools reopening will impact parents, families and the greater community.
With circumstances changing rapidly, Australian schools are currently faced with many considerations as they prepare for wider shutdowns.
Planning for learning continuity
As many schools close in advance of holidays, others are making the decision to scale up their online learning capabilities. However, the ability for schools, families and communities to make the swift transition is not consistent across all states. While all agree on the importance of schools maintaining the curriculum, expectations must be realistic.
The COVID-19 pandemic has seen many schools working around the clock since the beginning of the term to prepare for a possible shutdown. As private schools adopt online learning practices, teachers in the public sector are facing mixed challenges. At a minimum, the introduction of online learning means students need a laptop or tablet, home internet access and workspace or desk to work on.
While online learning may help to ease parents’ concerns surrounding the spread of the virus, working parents with children at home are now faced with merging work and home life under one roof. This means some schools, particularly private schools who have switched to online learning, may need to consider fee relief for families experiencing financial distress due to job loss or an inability to work due to parental and home-schooling responsibilities. A further consideration for fee relief arises from a reduction in the curriculum that can be offered by the school as a result of online learning.
In addition, working remotely also presents administrative challenges for schools, such as ensuring payroll systems can be managed remotely without compromising security.
Insurers do not cover loss of revenue or increased cost of working suffered by a school or university following the listing of a human disease under the Australian Quarantine Act 1908 subsequently rescinded by the Biosecurity Act 2015.
However, each property or business interruption policy should be reviewed as to the specific policy wording applicable for the school or university.
Universities face difficult decisions about exchange students returning home and the effect on their travel insurance cover. For example, those who purchased travel insurance before the disease became a known event may be covered for medical expenses arising from the virus. However, those who purchased insurance after COVID-19 was a known event are not covered for medical or cancellation expenses relating to contracting the virus, or from changes to their travel plans to cater for self-isolation measures.
Universities will also need to consider their approach if an exchange student refuses to go home and remains in the overseas country, in which case the student may not be covered by the university’s insurance.
Changing risk profile
Schools and universities may also be exposed to increased or new risks and liabilities as the pandemic grows and causes long-term implications. Potential cyber exposures through online education/examinations and increased employee liabilities or workers compensation exposures are just some examples.
Given a school or university’s risk profile may look very different pre-pandemic versus post-pandemic, Insurable Risk Identification and Insurance Gap Analysis are valuable exercises to conduct to ensure the risk profile is up-to-date and well understood by decision makers and key stakeholders, including insurers.
Stepping up hygiene measures – at school or at home
For those who continue in the classroom, everyday processes should be also be assessed during this time. Schools will need to implement social distancing practices that may include:
- Staggering class times;
- Cancelling school assemblies, sporting events and other group events;
- Ensure correct spacing in-between student desks; and
- Making time for regular hand-washing, more frequent cleaning of surfaces, and making sure that both staff and students cover their mouths when coughing or sneezing.
In case of closures due to an outbreak within the premises, schools will need to take the appropriate measures to properly sanitise before reopening. If schools outsource this sanitation, they will need to ensure their vendor uses the proper procedures and materials suitable during a pandemic.
Schools are also advised to:
- Understand the triggers required for health authorities to close down your school;
- Know whether the property will be used as a surge facility for local health centres; and
- Continually monitor communications from national and local health authorities.
Promoting information sharing
It is important to continually share known information with teachers, staff, students and their families, including updates on the virus situation and prevention and control efforts at school. Schools should establish a clear channel for COVID-19 related communication, such as utilising existing parent teacher forums and committees while ensuring everyone’s details are up to date.
Sharing information and facts about COVID-19 will help diminish students’ and the broader communities’ anxieties around the virus and help promote an inclusive environment.
Making psychological assistance readily available
Schools are also encouraged to provide guidance to students on how to support their peers while ensuring teachers are aware of local resources for their own well-being.
Employees and students who have family or friends who are impacted by the virus or experiencing stress or mental health challenges during this time of uncertainty may benefit from psychological assistance. Employee Assistance services and programs are not just for corporates, but also essential for the education sector.
If you would like to learn more or discuss how COVID-19 may be impacting you, please contact your Marsh representative, or email us via firstname.lastname@example.org.
This is a general overview of the insurance mentioned. We recommend that you read the policy wording so you have an understanding of the policy terms, conditions and exclusions before you decide whether a policy continues to suit your needs.