Update, 16 March 2020

Dear Students, Staff, Parents, Guardians and Local Support People

I write to you to provide you with a further update about the Novel Coronavirus (‘COVID-19’).

The safety, health and welfare of our students, staff and parents continues to be our highest priority.

Since my previous letter to the School community on 13 March:

  • The Commonwealth Government has issued social distancing advice which includes not holding social gatherings of more than 500 people. However, the Commonwealth and State Governments are keen for schools to stay open at this stage. This is based on the current risk assessment advice and the impact to the wider community, especially on medical professionals working in health care being withdrawn from their duties to care for their children should schools close.
  • Further restrictions have been placed on international travel by the Commonwealth Government.  In the best interests of the health and welfare of you and your family, please carefully consider the implications of overseas travel, including the quarantine or isolation periods that may be exercised upon your return. Please regularly review the latest advice from Smartraveller www.smartraveller.gov.au

Maintaining School routine and event management

The Whole School Executive has considered our program of school events. We wish to maintain a normal school routine that prioritises our students’ learning, but also take practical steps to support the health of our school community. The following decisions inform that advice.

  • Until further notice, there will be no assemblies, House assemblies, chapel services, concerts, large musical groups, VIA program, parent teacher nights or school social functions.  Our Year 9 Outdoor Education camps, due to occur in the final week of this term, have been cancelled and so Year 9 students will have a normal school timetable back at school. The LGR trip scheduled for the holidays has also been cancelled.  Excursions and incursions are being reviewed.
  • This morning the APS Heads have made the decision to cancel the remainder of the APS Summer sports season, which includes this week’s APS Swimming/Diving Finals and the Head of the River and the National Rowing Championships. Melbourne Grammar School has decided to cancel summer and pre-season winter sport practices, including training camps to be held during the term 1 holidays and end of summer season sport dinners. The same will apply in other APS schools.
  • The commencement of winter sport in Term 2 is currently under review by the APS Heads.
  • Until further notice, all interstate school trips and any overseas trips planned for later this year will not proceed. We will continue to liaise with our travel agents and insurers to asses each trip and minimise any financial ramifications of a delay or cancellation. Our Accounts Office will continue to work hard to try and secure refunds for those events and trips that have been cancelled.
  • We will continue to, remind our students and staff to practise good hygiene, have in place a strict cleaning regime and make available sanitation products.

School attendance

If your child is not feeling well, please keep him/her at home.  We will continue to carefully monitor our students and those who present with flu-like symptoms will be sent home and instructed to seek, and adhere to, medical advice. It is up to the student’s doctor, and not us, to make any diagnosis and recommend treatment.

We appreciate the concern amongst some families about school attendance. The current advice provided by the Federal Government and Federal Government Health Departments is that withdrawal of children from school is not necessary. Whilst our staff will continue to provide excellent learning and pastoral care, we will continue to respect the decision of any school family to keep their children at home.

Other Federal and State Government Health Department advice

Melbourne Grammar School’s response continues to be informed by the advice provided by the Australian Government Department of Health and the Victorian Government Department of Health and Human Services (DDHS). This advice is regularly updated and can be viewed here and here to assist you in your understanding of the virus, how the situation is being handled, and where you can get further information. In the interests of your family, our school and the wider community we again urge you and the rest of our school community to regularly revisit the Government Health departments’ websites and adhere to the advice provided, specifically:

  • People with COVID-19 may experience fever, flu-like symptoms such as coughing, sore throat and headaches and have difficulty breathing. We have asked our students and parents to stay at home until fully recovered should they or their children present with these symptoms. Similarly, if you experience these symptoms, we ask you not to visit the School or attend School events until you have recovered from the illness. The Australian Government Department of Health’s current advice is “If you become unwell and think you may have symptoms of COVID-19, seek medical attention. Call ahead of time to book an appointment. Tell your doctor about your symptoms, travel history and any recent close contact with someone who has COVID-19. If you must leave home to see your doctor, wear a surgical mask (if you have one) to protect others”.
  • DDHS advice is that students, staff and close community members should self-isolate from the School if the following applies:
    • The person is a confirmed case of COVID-19
    • The person is a close contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19 in the past 14 days.
  • Please continue to practise good personal hygiene.

Maintaining perspective

We appreciate the anxiety that exists in our school community. The staff and I are adopting a business as usual approach, are calming any speculation and providing good pastoral care.

We also need to keep some perspective; specifically:

  • Australia has an excellent history of dealing with infectious diseases and has a world class medical care system.
  • Early data suggest that of those who develop an illness, the great majority will have a mild-to-moderate, but a self-limiting illness – similar to seasonal influenza. It is, however, also clear that a relatively small minority of people who get COVID-19 will develop complications severe enough to require hospital care, most often pneumonia. In only a very small proportion of these, the illness may be severe enough to lead to death. So far, the data suggests that the risk of severe disease and death increases amongst elderly people and in people with underlying health risk conditions (in the same way as for seasonal influenza).
  • Based on current data, overall illness is less common and usually less severe in school children and teenagers. So, our students are not currently classified as an ‘at risk’ population.
  • The majority of people with COVID-19 have recovered without the need for any specific treatment, as is the case for the common cold or seasonal flu – and they expect that the vast majority of cases will best be managed at home, again as with seasonal colds and influenza.

Temporary campus closure and a move to on-line learning if this becomes necessary

We are also mindful some schools have had to close on a temporary basis due to Coronavirus. Any decision to temporarily close any school section at Melbourne Grammar would be made by the Whole School Executive in the best interests of the welfare and health of our school community and after considering advice from the Chief Medical Officer. Under such circumstances, we all wish to minimise the impact of any temporary closure. In the event of a temporary closure, please be reassured by the following:

  • We wish to minimise the impact on our students’ learning. Our staff will do everything practicable to provide support for the continuation of student learning that is age and stage appropriate. This may include using email and the School’s on-line learning portals. Staff are advising their students as to the approaches that will be applied to enable their learning to continue.
  • Each night staff and students are advised to ensure they take home any relevant materials (e.g. books and lap top computers) to support their learning should we have to temporarily close at short notice.
  • The Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority (VCAA) has advised that special provisions will be in place so that no VCE student is disadvantaged as a result of COVID-19.
  • The School will support students who miss school due to the above requirements, to minimise any impact on his or her education and progress.

My sincerest thanks

We will continue to keep you informed of any significant developments.

Again, I thank our school community for your understanding, flexibility and the way you have supported each other and our school in what are unique and challenging circumstances.

Philip Grutzner