Monday 23 March 2020

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Community COVID-19 update #2

I write to you today to update what the past week has looked like and what we do know about this coming week. I find myself in a bit of a surreal situation and I can honestly say I have never felt the weight of responsibility as I do at the moment. Most issues I have ever had to deal with are within my expertise and experience. This situation is not.

Firstly, can I say how wonderfully everyone in our community has responded. The boys are doing their best. Being young and innocent can sometimes be such a blessing! There may be some boys who are struggling with matters, please be proactive about bringing them to our attention. I wrote to all boys last week indicating this is the time for them to step up in all areas. Please reinforce that message.

You, the parents, have been amazing. Whether you have made the choice to keep your son at home, or send him to school, your goodwill is valued and hopefully continues.

Can I let you know that my greatest admiration during this crisis is for my colleagues. That does not take anything away from you or your sons, but the response from the staff at CBC Fremantle, those who teach and those who support the teaching, has been uplifting. No panic or whining but a redoubling of their efforts. The profile of the staff is diverse, but among them are staff who, like me, have compromised auto-immune issues. They do not have the luxury that I have in a big office where social distancing is easy to enact. They just keep coming to work as the authorities advise. We have staff who have had cancer and some who are in remission. We have staff who have infants or are pregnant. We have staff with serious health issues such as MS and cardiac problems. Staff who have had to stop seeing their parents and grandparents as a result of their duties at school. At the moment all they do is provide suggestions on how we can all pitch in to help, but I question whether this is sustainable. At some point they, like some of you, will blink. The emotional pressure on all of us makes our unanimity of purpose and empathy essential and I do hope it continues and gets us through the other side even more bonded and proud of this Community we all share and contribute to.

Logistically, last week we were able to:

  • provide more wash stations
  • stagger recess and lunch for junior and senior students
  • move one year group to the oval each day to reduce congestion
  • allow boys doing any physical activity to come to school in sport uniform
  • emphasise behaviours which can reduce the spread of illness, including COVID-19
  • continue to prepare for the educational continuity of your sons should we cease face-to-face lessons
  • cancel all activities, including Masses, the Senior Ball, Edmund Rice Day and Assemblies until further notice.

What we cannot do, what I think is impossible to do, is to enforce the social-distancing. Four square metres per person would mean each classroom would need to be at least 120 square metres, which is about double the size of a traditional classroom.

From today we are looking at some other measures that reduce contact with each other and high-contact areas such as door handles. As I have stated to everyone, no-one at this school has all the answers, so I beseech you to provide counsel and wisdom where appropriate so that we try and make the most informed and inclusive decisions.

Our attendance rate is now below 80%. This is a result of parents choosing their right to keep their sons at home. My daughter has done the same with my grandchildren, who I might add, I am unable to see at the moment. She is lucky to be able to have the option that I know is not available to everyone. I am assuming that in the absence of a government directive, more and more parents will choose to keep their children at home. I received a wonderful email as I was writing this communication:

I am writing to inform you that I will be keeping my son home from school for the remainder of this term.

I am sure you are aware that the advice regarding closing schools is conflicting, confusing and inconsistent. The medical advice is not. The Health Minister Roger Cook has repeatedly stated "social distancing remains the most important strategy that we can utilise to limit the spread of the virus and flatten the curve". The only effective way to reduce the spread of this virus is to reduce social interaction. I do not believe this can occur in a school setting or on public transport. If we do not slow the rate of transmission our hospitals will be overwhelmed.

If only a handful of families remove their students from schools, those who remain will be more able to socially distance, to sit further from each other and to reduce queuing so they will be less likely to spread the virus to each other and to their families. The disease is mild in young people so I do not have concerns about my son contracting the virus, but I want him to be part of the strategy that stops its spread.

I do not expect his teachers to provide him with work, they have enough on their plates. He has brought home his books and he will continue to work through them.

He will manage. We all have a social responsibility to reduce the likelihood of spread of this virus. We have to act on the information we have and our instincts as to what is right. I have the capacity to keep my son at home. Keeping him home makes sense to me so this is the measure that we will take.

I wish you and the whole school community all the best and all the resilience and patience you need at this difficult time.

Hopefully we will see you in Term 2.

I share it with you not to try and maneuver your decision-making, but rather to help it. The selflessness of the writer certainly reflects the Australia I grew up in and not that of the visits to Coles and Woolworths I have recently experienced.

One point that is made in the email is about lesson delivery. Some valuable feedback that we have received from teaching staff is around the expectation of the classroom teacher having the time to continue with their face-to-face lessons as well as provide a bespoke service to each individual boy whose parents have exercised their right for him to stay at home. In particular, the additional requests from parents asking teachers to respond to emails, to provide feedback to their son and to upload additional work onto SEQTA are overwhelming. If you choose to keep your son at home, the lessons will be online via SEQTA for every year, subject and lesson, which is the minimum standard at CBC Fremantle. Once we are advised to cease face-to-face teaching, we will be able to adapt our staffs' workloads and personalise the communication. I hope this makes sense.

I wrote in last year's Annual that life is difficult. Life certainly took very little time to remind us all how difficult it can be. My son mentioned last night that one thing he has been disappointed about is the apparent priorities of some of our leaders. The economy is absolutely vital, and the stress it is causing some families is monumental, but I believe that our governments will ensure that these problems are soothed as much as possible and accommodations made to help those who suffer financially. That is why we elect them. What my son feels if by far the most important priority is us, the people. Our children, our parents, our grandparents, friends, relatives, neighbours and life itself. The most important thing for him is that all those people are still there when we get to the other side of COVID-19. I pray they are.

In conclusion, thank you. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for your faith in the College, support of your sons and support of the staff. As I wrote to the staff on Friday, this is a serious situation but the moments of joy and awe of creation and the savouring of a fine wine with a great meal are still available to us if we seek it. Together we shall overcome!

With love,
Mr Domenic Burgio
Principal