School regulator investigating Fitzroy school’s child safety standards

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Victoria’s schools regulator is investigating if Fitzroy Community School has breached its legal duty to keep children safe, following reports the principal invited parents to send their children to school during lockdowns.

Fitzroy Community School principal Tim Berryman on Monday.Credit:Justin McManus

The independent Fitzroy North school has been ordered to hand the regulator its COVID-safe plans, communications to parents about on-site attendance and other documents relating to its compliance with public health directions.

The school is caught up in a significant outbreak involving dozens of students, staff and family members.

The directive was issued after The Age revealed on Monday that the school’s principal, Tim Berryman, had repeatedly defied public health orders and invited parents to send their children to school during periods of remote learning.

“Please feel free to send your child to school if you feel that this is best for them or best for your family balance. I do not write this lightly, as this does breach government-imposed directives for schools,” one email, dated June 3, states.

Victorian Registrations and Qualifications Authority director Jonathan Kaplan said he was concerned that the school “may have consciously made a decision not to comply with its legal obligations”.

“My immediate concern is for the ongoing safety of students at the school and the actions taken by the school to discharge its duty of care to students by complying with relevant public health directions,” Mr Kaplan wrote to principal Tim Berryman.

The school has been given until Friday to provide the documents, before the regulator considers further action.

The primary school has about 120 students at two campuses in Fitzroy North and Thornbury, but has closed its Thornbury school during lockdown and by last week had concentrated at least 60 students inside the Fitzroy North campus, a two-storey Brunswick Street terrace house.

Principal Tim Berryman informed parents late last week that the school had become a tier-1 exposure site, something that he had thought was “only a matter of time” for the alternative primary school, which was founded by his mother Faye in the 1970s.

Faye and Tim Berryman were both adamant on Monday that the school was acting in the best interests of children.

“What I’ve found frustrating and quite depressing is that in this whole discussion the children and their hopes and their aspirations have just been not part of it,” Mr Berryman told The Age on Monday.

Twenty-nine members of the school community are infected with COVID-19, and there are 82 close contacts, the Chief Health Officer said late on Monday.

The Health Department is also investigating the circumstances leading up to the outbreak, including the school’s COVID safe practices and how public health directions were being followed.

Mr Berryman, whose primary school-aged son is a positive case, said the infected children were showing few symptoms.

“The kids are all fine. A couple are a bit fluey. Most of them, if you weren’t going to test for something, you would have never known anything,” he said yesterday.

The principal has been outspoken since early last year in his view that children should not be kept at home during the pandemic.

Last month he wrote a letter to Premier Daniel Andrews, urging him to reopen schools.

“Children are gifted with immune systems that appear designed to combat and defeat COVID. Closing their schools is causing much greater harm to them than COVID ever will,” it said.

“Keeping primary schools open supports children’s learning and mental health – their learning and mental health suffer when they are isolated.”

Most Melbourne students have missed more than 150 days of face-to-face learning since March last year.

The Delta variant is also spreading rapidly among the young – 529 active cases in the state are in people aged nine and under, and 585 are aged 10 to 19.

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