A Victorian principal who allegedly encouraged students to attend school despite lockdown restrictions has been slammed as “irresponsible”.
Visibly angry Education Minister James Merlino tore into Fitzroy Community School principal Timothy Berryman on Tuesday after an outbreak at the independent school.
It’s been reported that Mr Berryman told parents during a previous lockdown that he could not “in good conscience” continue to request that they keep their children at home for remote learning.
But Mr Berryman told ABC Radio Melbourne on Monday that during the state’s sixth lockdown every student at school was allowed to be there under the rules.
He said about 60 children were in the classroom most days and they were vulnerable students and the children of essential workers.
Mr Merlino indicated he was glad other Victoria school principals weren’t as “irresponsible” as Mr Berryman.
“We’ve got more than 2200 schools in Victoria, that’s more than one million students,” he said.
“Imagine if every single principal was as irresponsible as this one.
“Imagine the case numbers, imagine the hospitalisations, if every single principal was as irresponsible as this one.”
The health department has launched an investigation into whether the school breached the lockdown rules, while Mr Merlino said the education regulator was also investigating.
“The Victorian Registration and Qualifications Authority is also following this up, they’re an independent authority and every single school must meet minimum standards,” he said.
Health department deputy secretary Kate Matson said 33 positive Covid cases had now being linked to the school, an increase of four since Monday.
About 80 close contacts are associated with the Fitzroy Community School outbreak.
The health department confirmed it was investigating the circumstances leading up to the outbreak, including the CovidSafe measures that were in place on site and how the chief health officer directions were being adhered to.
It said the school had been closed for deep cleaning.
“Given the large number of staff and students who are primary close contacts of a confirmed case and who are required to isolate for 14 days, the department does not anticipate the school will reopen for the remainder of that period,” they said in a statement.
Mr Berryman, who is serving 28 days isolation due to a positive case in his household, declined to respond to Mr Merlino’s comments or speak about the two investigations when contacted by NCA NewsWire on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, Victorian Opposition Leader Matthew Guy is pushing for year 11 and 12 students to go back to face-to-face learning, with only two weeks left before VCE exams on October 4.
Mr Guy said the government should be allocating funding to rapid testing and school bubbles that could operate with staggered entry and exit points.
“These students have been through so much, particularly last year and this year, but it will at least give them that last two weeks,” he said.
“I ask the government to take off all the spending you’re using on big builds and put it into getting our kids back to school.”
Mr Merlino said the government was working on a plan to get students back but slammed the idea of a school bubble.
“There are elements of their so-called plan that flies in the face of public health advice and other elements such as the bubble which is an impossible premise,” Mr Merlino said.
“For goodness sake, a big secondary school, 2000 students, all of their families, you know, their parents, their siblings, all the teachers, all the staff, and their families, I mean, it’s just a ridiculous idea.”