Schools making plans

Sarah Luke

State of emergency declared

We must work together as a community

LOCAL schools are preparing contingency plans for likely closure at some point, as authorities attempt to slow the spread of COVID-19.

As schools around the state close their doors, Gippsland Grammar in Sale has begun investigating a range of scenarios, including managing a confirmed COVID-19 case.

In a letter sent home to students last week, principal David Baker said the school was “planning for the eventuality that the school may have to close for a period of time”.

“This would include continuation of educational services via our Learning Management System and a business continuation plan,” he wrote.

The school is examining the option of providing virtual private networks and remote phone access for its administration staff, and setting up video conference lessons for students.

The school is also reviewing home stay arrangements for international students during school holidays.

Posters pertaining to regular hand washing, using hand sanitiser, and how to cough and sneeze safely (into the elbow) are prominently displayed around the school.

The letter said the school would be reviewing all school-related travel, overseas study tours and incoming student exchange programs from Japan and France, and refining its communication channels to ensure efficient relaying of information.

“This can be a very stressful time for some students and their families and I urge you as a family to discuss this issue and to reassure students that the virus can and will be managed in the longterm,” Mr Baker wrote.

“May I also respectfu lly suggest that all families look carefully at their own non-urgent personal travel plans and/or holidays in the coming months.”

The letter included a list of tips to help families with stress, such as maintaining family and work routines and focusing attention on things over which they have control, like good hand, sneezing and coughing hygiene.

The school has been forced to postpone its major fundraiser, a twilight fair scheduled to be held this weekend, until October, and some inter-school sports carnivals have also been cancelled.

Sale College principal Brendan Staple said he was receiving regular communication from the Education Department.

“We pretty much stay on the ball and respond as requested,” he said.

“The plans for managing any cases individually are well documented in the resources available to us, but communicating this before any eventuality is only likely to raise anxieties.”

The department’s communication includes the latest advice regarding travel restrictions, exemptions for year 11 and year 12 students, what to do if a student or staff member has contact with a confirmed case, and maintaining good hygiene at school.

The college also has posters regarding hygiene displayed.

Victoria’s Chief Health Officer has issued advice that overseas school excursions should cease.

“We do not have any international travel planned with students at the moment, which is good,” Mr Staple said.

“I have given some staff the latest travel advice with holidays approaching.

“We have strong avenues for communicating with our extended community, and we will use these if and when we are required to do so.

“It is important for us not to speculate or raise anxieties around this before we are dealing with all the facts as they are communicated to us.”

Catholic College Sale said it had been following the advice of health authorities in regards to minimising the spread of COVID-19, along with all Catholic schools within the Diocese of Sale.

“As always, our highest priority is the health and wellbeing of every member of our school community,” a spokesperson told the Gippsland Times.

“In our communications to staff, students and families, we have emphasised the need for good hand and respiratory hygiene.

“We have also advised anyone who is feeling unwell to stay at home, and seek medical assistance if required.

“Hand sanitiser has been made available at the school, and everyone has been encouraged to apply it.

“If there is a suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19 within the school community, we will continue to follow the advice of health authorities.”

Diocese of Sale Catholic Education Limited has been preparing contingency plans for the possibility that schools may be temporarily closed.

“The details of those plans will continue to be refined and updated, based on the latest advice from health authorities,” the spokesperson said.

As a precaution, the school’s debutante ball, planned for Friday, has been postponed.

The Marist Schools Australia Basketball Carnival, to be held in Adelaide next month, has been cancelled.

CCS has not yet cancelled any overseas trips planned for 2020, as “the situation with the pandemic remains highly unpredictable”.

“Decisions to cancel or postpone any other school activities will be guided by advice from health authorities,” the spokesperson said.

On Sunday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said there had been wide discussion about school closures, but the advice was that it would have a negative effect on tackling COVID-19.

This is because taking children out of school would expose them to the broader community, and at the same time risk disrupting the availability of critical health workers as they cared for their children.

Premier Daniel Andrews said while schools could remain open now, it was almost certain they would close at some stage.

“Frustratingly, I can’t tell you exactly when that will be, but it is more than a likelihood that we will have significant disruptions to schools,” he said.

On Saturday, Geelong Grammar announced it would end term one early, closing from 5pm on Wednesday, despite having no cases of coronavirus.

Maffra Secondary College did not provide comment before the Gippsland Times‘ deadline.