Bairnsdale school students finished classes on Monday and began their holidays early as a result of the unfolding coronavirus pandemic.
At Bairnsdale West Primary School, normally frequented by 310 students, student attendance was at just 90 on Monday as parents slowly began withdrawing their kids from school out of concern about the coronavirus.
“For the last week, about a third of kids had been away from school as parents decided it was the best option,” principal, Doug Vickers, said.
“People’s awareness in the community was that it wasn’t as safe as they thought so as a result some students were being kept away because of the coronavirus.”
Mr Vickers said the school had put out a memo to all families last week to highlight practices to minimise its impact, such as regular hand washing.
“We respected parents’ opinion if they wanted their children to stay at home,” he said.
The school was organised and prepared hardcopy packs for a number of students who wouldn’t otherwise have access to internet for online learning.
About 100 students don’t have computer or internet access.
“We will continue to provide support of hard packs to those students that need them and staff will stay in contact with families throughout this period so they feel connected with the school, rather than feeling isolated,” Mr Vickers said.
“We’ve had regular and ongoing communication with families and will continue to do so.”
When the News called by on Monday, students were preparing to pack up for the school holidays.
Grade six students, Jarrell Hood and Alex Wong, were catching up on some last minute learning before beginning the school holidays early.
Both were ambivalent about starting the school break a few days earlier.
“I think it’s important because we don’t want to spread it to others,” Alex said.
Jarrell said he would stay home during the school holidays in order to isolate the risk to himself and others.
Another grade six student, Finn Aumann, said he agreed with the schools closing early.
“I think it’s important because if we got it here we could spread it to others and that’s not very good,” he said.
Finn said he will spend his time playing backyard cricket and football with his brother, Tate.
Another student, Scarlett Fyfe, said it was important to protect other people.
Scarlett said she would take the extended break to learn how to crochet.
Over at Nagle College, teachers have been preparing for the past two weeks for a move to online learning in anticipation of schools being closed.
Principal, Neville Powles, said the college had experienced slightly elevated absentee rates over the past week.
“Obviously we have a percentage of students away each day due to usual sickness and that number has been higher than normal,” Mr Powles said, as some parents decided to take precautionary measures and isolate their children at home.
Nagle College has provided all its students with a laptop for online learning and in anticipation that term two, which is due to resume on April 14, may be conducted via the web.
Mr Powles said teachers had already begun testing how that would work by contacting students electronically and seeing them respond in the same manner.
“For the remainder of this week, teachers will continue with planning and developing those capacities so if we do go into the real thing (total shutdown) we’ll be better prepared,” he said.
“This space is changing so rapidly. We’ve been told the peak is yet to arrive.”
Those students whose parents were unprepared to take care of them this week were still permitted at Nagle College where they were supervised by staff.
IMAGE: Bairnsdale West Primary School student, Finn Aumann, and his mother, Bianca, together with Scarlett Fyfe and Leah Anderson, a teacher at the school, are planning to stay at home during the extended holiday break. K265-5572