An important announcement from the Headmaster & the Chairman of School Council regarding the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19)
[The following announcement was sent to Melbourne Grammar School students, staff and parents on Wednesday 18 March 2020 to provide them with advice about recent actions taken by Melbourne Grammar School in response to the current COVID-19 situation.]
Firstly, we can confirm that Melbourne Grammar School is not aware at this time of any confirmed case of COVID-19 within our student, staff or parent community.
That being said, as an educational institution mindful of our responsibility to our School community, as well as the community at large, and after proper deliberation of the rapidly changing COVID-19 situation, Melbourne Grammar School Council late yesterday endorsed the Whole School Executive’s recommendation, led by our Headmaster Philip Grutzner, to commence a swift, but phased transition for all students to off-campus learning.
This will apply to all three School campuses, and will be achieved through a short, but orderly phased process, beginning today:
Wednesday 18 March (today): Boarding House begins a phased Term 1 exodus
The Boarding House will commence a staged closure, from lunchtime today. We are in direct communication with our Boarding community regarding travel and all other arrangements for our 120 Boarders, to ensure the process is handled with great care over the coming days.
Thursday 19 March (tomorrow): Face-to-face classes conclude for Term 1
All students from Grimwade House, Wadhurst and Senior School campuses will complete their final face-to-face teaching class for Term 1, 2020 at the end of the school day tomorrow. Students will not physically attend School this Friday (20 March), nor any day next week.
Friday 20 March
All teaching staff and general staff will attend their normal campus workplace as the School consolidates the administrative, support and technical systems required to support off-campus learning for all students.
Monday 23 - Friday 27 March (next week): No classes on any campus
Commencement of off campus learning for all students.
All teaching staff and, as appropriate, general staff will be in attendance.
March 27 - Monday 13 April: Official school holiday period
Normal school holiday period arrangements will apply.
By phasing the transition in this way, we can best prepare our staff, students and their families, in a calm and measured way, for this temporary but very important change to our students’ learning and pastoral experience. We also want to provide capacity for our families to make any necessary adjustments to their work and family arrangements in preparation for whatever circumstances are required in Term 2. This transition to off campus learning will be temporary but at this stage how long it will last is simply unknown; a situation which we will be monitoring very closely and about which we will keep the School community well informed.
The decision to effectively close our campuses to students a week early, is not one we have taken lightly.
However, like the rest of the community, we are facing a highly fluid and currently escalating situation. Our joint priorities are the health and welfare of our students and staff, and the need to ensure we have the right learning environments in place for our students should the COVID-19 situation continue to present longer term challenges to our traditional campus-based, face-to-face teaching model.
Together, our cohesive School community is experiencing an historically unprecedented period of disruption and uncertainty, impacting every aspect of our lives. We are being challenged, individually and collectively to reconsider things we may have once considered immutable; to think about things in an entirely different way - for a time. Our communal responsibility is to look after each other and to protect those most vulnerable in our society from the impact of COVID-19, until the situation becomes more manageable for the health and government authorities that will steer us through this crisis.
But it is also vital that while we work through this difficult time, our children are cared for and supported, and that their education is as uninterrupted as possible in the days and weeks ahead, until things can return to normal.
Because we do not know how long this might take, activating the School’s capacity to deliver off-campus learning to our students is the best way we can ensure our students continue to get the highest quality education. This requires good planning - which has well and truly commenced – cooperation, collaboration and innovation, and perhaps above all, patience, kindness and understanding – things we know our School community recognises and values.
Coming to this decision
The safety, health and welfare of our students, staff and parents remains our highest priority.
As you have already been advised (Headmaster’s letter of 16 March), the School has already cancelled a number of future and ongoing school events and activities, and modified others, in direct response to the Commonwealth Government’s advice on social distancing.
We have continued to closely monitor the predicted rise in COVID-19 infection rates, as well as noting the increasing levels of anxiety amongst our students, staff and parents. We are especially mindful that our students are drawn from across Melbourne and many rely on public transport, often travelling over long distances in crowded adult environments. MGS is also a boarding school with students from regional Victoria, interstate, Indigenous communities and overseas.
To date, we have followed all the recommendations of the relevant State and Commonwealth authorities. But, in the best long-term interests of our School community we feel we have now reached the time when our School needed to take decisive action regarding how we manage our students on campus, and how we best plan for their immediate future.
Notwithstanding, should a staff member or student present, today or during the next few days, with a confirmed case of COVID-19, or should we be instructed by the DHHS or other government authority to do so, we would close the School immediately.
Arrangements for Term II
We remain hopeful that Term II may start as normally planned - with teaching staff resuming work on Tuesday 14 April, and all students returning on Wednesday 15 April, across all campuses.
However, this will be monitored and assessed constantly over the coming weeks and evaluated by the School Executive, with consideration given to all the prevailing circumstances of the COVID-19 situation, all advice provided at that time by State and Commonwealth Health Departments, and our existing school program and operational conditions. As you will appreciate, some of these elements are unknown and others are shifting so, for now, the arrangements for the start of Term II will need to be flexible and the School will keep you fully informed over the next days and weeks in the lead up to Term II.
What should we expect in the next few days?
This morning the Headmaster spoke directly with key staff from each campus; Grimwade House, Wadhurst and Senior School.
Just before lunch time today:
- Every Grimwade House classroom teacher spoke to his/her students;
- The Head of Wadhurst and House Tutors met with the Year 7 students, followed by the Year 8 students; and
- Every Senior School Head of House met with his/her tutor group.
At these meetings students were informed why these decisions have been made, the decision-making processes behind the decisions (as appropriate) and were offered ongoing support. It is important that students know they can seek further explanation and information on these matters from their teachers and/or tutors, if and as required.
We want to minimise the impact, on everyone, of the changes that will begin to come into effect from today. Please be reassured by the following:
- Staff will do everything practicable to provide support for the smooth continuation of student learning. This may include using mechanisms including email and the School’s on-line learning portals, and staff are now beginning to advise students what are the approaches that will be applied to enable their learning to continue. In the coming days, Campus Heads will issue specific advice about age, stage and subject appropriate plans to students and parents and will support their students accordingly.
- Tonight and again tomorrow night, students and staff should take home all relevant items (e.g. books, lap top computers and musical instruments) to support off campus learning.
- The Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority (VCAA) has advised that special provisions will be in place to ensure that no VCE student is disadvantaged as a result of COVID-19. We acknowledge a number of SACS will be rescheduled, with flexibility and support provided to our students.
- When we return to normal operations, the School will support any student who misses school due to these changes, to minimise any impact on his or her education and progress.
- Our staff will continue to provide the essential services required to provide the learning and pastoral needs of our students, as well as our essential operations.
- We will continue to remind students and staff to practise good hygiene, have in place a strict cleaning regime, and make sanitation products available.
Please continue to read and follow the health guidelines published by the Commonwealth and State Departments of Health. In particular, we ask that you familiarise yourself with the recommended social distancing practices outlined by the government and put these in place for all members of your family. Further information is provided below.
We ask parents, guardians and families to support our executive team and hardworking teaching and general staff as they navigate this complex transition, in trying circumstances, and to demonstrate a realistic, flexible and positive mindset for our students during this time.
In these uncertain and challenging times we are deeply grateful for your understanding, flexibility, patience and the way you have supported each other and our School, in what are truly extraordinary circumstances.
Please check your emails as we continue to keep you informed of any significant developments.
Philip Grutzner Michael Bartlett
Headmaster Chairman of School Council
CURRENT INFORMATION ON COVID-19 at 17 March 2020
Further restrictions have now been placed on international travel by the Commonwealth Government. Please carefully consider the implications of any overseas travel, including any quarantine or isolation periods that may be exercised upon your return. Please regularly review the latest advice at Smartraveller www.smartraveller.gov.au.
As previously advised, if your child is not feeling well, please keep him/her at home. We will continue to monitor carefully 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 to make any diagnosis and recommend treatment.
We appreciate the concern amongst some families about school attendance. 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.
Commonwealth 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 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 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 practice good personal hygiene.
We appreciate the anxiety that exists in our school community. 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.