A principal who sparked a Covid outbreak by encouraging students to attend school during the lockdown due to their mental health has been shamed by health authorities as he and the school face hefty fines.
Timothy Berryman, director of the Fitzroy Community School, repeatedly encouraged parents to send their children to school while Victoria was locked up.
Victorian Health Secretary Martin Foley said an inquiry into the ‘alternative’ school in North Fitzroy would decide what sanction it should face.
“Our number one priority is the well-being of those children and their families and staff,” he said at Monday’s press conference on the coronavirus.
“This school has a history of sailing close to the Chief Health Officer’s orders.
Timothy Berryman, director of the Fitzroy Community School, wrote to parents, “Feel free to send your child to school if you think it’s best for them or best for your family balance.”
“Our compliance people – after the priority of responding to the outbreak has been settled – will investigate the matter and take appropriate action based on the outcomes they come up with.”
The independent primary school was identified yesterday by Victorian deputy health officer Dan O’Brien as the source of an outbreak that affected 31 students and staff on Monday.
Mr. Foley would not be drawn on whether Mr. Berryman and the school would face fines of thousands of dollars or a possible expulsion from the school or Mr. Berryman.
“I think everyone should follow the orders of the health officer. And if you don’t, there are consequences,’ he said.
‘Not least of all, children get sick. Families get sick.’
Up to 60 children attended classes every day and more than 180 people had close contacts, making the school a Tier 1 exposure site.
At least 30 students and staff tested positive at the Fitzroy Community Center in Fitzroy North, Melbourne
Philip O’Carroll, co-founder of the Fitzroy Community School, speaks to media in Melbourne on Monday
Mr. Berryman told parents that he could not continue to ask “in good faith” to keep their children at home.
“Feel free to send your child to school if you think it’s best for them or best for your family balance,” reads the email from The age read.
“I’m not writing this lightly, as it violates government-imposed guidelines for schools.”
He argued that children should come to school to protect their mental health and that Covid transmission in children is negligible.
Mr Berryman was later warned that his encouragement to parents at the time violated the health directive, but in late July he continued to suggest that they send their children to school.
“I am once again offering you every opportunity to send your children to school,” he wrote.
Mr Berryman said: The Herald Sun that his son, 11, had contracted the coronavirus but was otherwise well.
“None of the children with Covid are sick,” he said.
“We have to accept that children catch Covid at school. This will happen, but the kids won’t get sick of it.’
Victorian Prime Minister Daniel Andrews would not commit to a date when students in the state could return to school during Sunday’s Covid-19 update
The ‘information’ section of the school’s website has links to numerous articles on the dangers of lockdowns to children’s mental health and the minimal risk of Covid-19 for younger people.
On the homepage, the school states that it has its ‘own unique way of working’.
‘Our school has a relaxed atmosphere and good results at the same time. Children are eager to learn and enjoy coming to school.’
A resident who lives near the school wrote on social media that the school, as part of the local community, had a duty to follow health rules “for themselves and everyone around them.”
Did the school follow the DHHS guidelines for distance learning? Did they have adequate Covid protocols for staff and students?’ They wrote.
‘Were there any symptomatic staff or students at the school during the past week and how were they dealt with?
“Damned disgusting that the school didn’t follow health guidelines,” another person wrote on the Vic Exposure Sites Facebook group.
The school was founded in 1976 by Philip O’Carroll and Faye Berryman at their home on Brunswick Street, North Fitzroy, from which it still operates today.
It also has a second campus on Normanby Avenue in Thornbury.
Darcy Wain, 15, receives Pfizer vaccination at Royal Exhibition Building Covid-19 Vaccination Hub in Melbourne
Prime Minister Dan Andrews has not yet set a date for Victorian students to return to school.
He said on Sunday the plan for a return to personal education would be released in a week.
It is not yet clear whether all school years will return to class at the same time, nor what restrictions will be placed on class attendance.
The decision is reportedly dependent on the Burnet Institute’s modelling, with scenarios prepared by the Victorian Department of Education, pending approval from health officer Brett Sutton based on the modeling.
From Monday, children between the ages of 12 and 15 can book a Covid-19 Pfizer vaccine.
Bookings will be available through GPs and Commonwealth Vaccination Clinics.