Families at St Hilda’s Anglican Girls’ School are in disarray due to delays in reopening state borders

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Families in the western suburbs whose children attend an elite private school in Perth have been left in disarray after Prime Minister Mark McGowan halted the reopening of state borders on February 5.

Principal of St Hilda’s Anglican Girls’ School, Fiona Johnston, exclusively told PerthNow this week that families of pupils have been affected by delays to the WA hard border closure.

“While the school is prepared for the date when community spread forces us to adapt our operations, it has a number of families who have been forced to alter their plans to re-enter the state now,” a- she declared.

“For those families who expected to enter the state on February 5 without needing to seek approval and self-isolate for two weeks, they are now in the difficult position of reassessing their personal circumstances, particularly in this concerning education.”

Camera iconSt Hilda’s Primary School Credit: Provided

Mr. McGowan made headlines last week for indefinitely postponing the reopening of state borders due to growing health risks posed by the Omicron variant COVID-19.

He said on Tuesday that education was important and that the government wanted to make sure WA families returning from out of state could come back and start their quarantine as soon as possible.

“Along with the families, we expect the G2G system arrangement to be operational tomorrow (Wednesday),” he said.

“It is expected that we will allow applications from people who are returning to Western Australia with children so that their children can start quarantine and do the two-week quarantine period so that they can take part of it from the road before the start of the school year.

“Many of them thought they would come back before February 5 without quarantine, but plans have changed, so we will allow this group of people to come back and be able to start their quarantine as soon as possible.

Ms Johnston said St Hilda’s Anglican Girls’ School had a COVID-19 plan, with the start of term one just days away.

Fiona Johnston, principal of St Hilda's Anglican School for Girls.
Camera iconFiona Johnston, principal of St Hilda’s Anglican School for Girls. Credit: bar of hope

She said the school’s leadership team and pandemic response committee had been undertaking “rigorous scenario planning” over the past six months in preparation for the reopening of borders.

She said the school would “operate as normal” while adhering to requirements set by the state government, including the wearing of masks, staff vaccinations and social distancing where necessary.

“A key part of our plan was to ensure consistency of teaching in learning while staff and students can’t be in the classroom,” she said.

“Our hybrid learning model was designed to provide all students and staff with the opportunity to engage in online teaching and learning, while isolated.

“The school has also undertaken ventilation audits to ensure adequate air circulation in the classrooms.”

Students at St Hilda's Junior School.
Camera iconStudents at St Hilda’s Junior School. Credit: Provided

WA Independent Schools Association executive director Valerie Gould told PerthNow she represents 163 schools, all of which would have different opinions on whether borders should open or close.

“As an association, we cannot have one opinion on this,” she said. “All schools will work hard to ensure the safety and well-being of their staff and students.”

But other schools in the western suburbs remain tight-lipped about their COVID-19 plan ahead of the new school year.

PerthNow contacted 12 private and public schools in wealthier suburbs this week and asked what their COVID-19 plan was, but only Methodist Ladies’ College, Presbyterian Ladies’ College and Scotch College responded.

A Methodist Ladies’ College spokeswoman said the school will ‘only follow WA government health advice’ and adhere to ‘all requirements in place’, including mask-wearing for students and staff from high school.

Presbyterian Ladies’ College principal Cate Begbie said the school will also continue to be guided by information from the state health and education departments.

Scotch College Director of Admissions, Engagement and Communications David Kyle said the school is also awaiting guidance from the state government for the new school year.

“When we receive state government operating protocols for schools and the wider community, we will be in touch regarding the start of the school year,” he said.

But Department for Education chief executive Lisa Rodgers said all schools are “putting in place their own teaching and learning operational plans” that best meet the needs of their communities.

The state government on Tuesday provided the education system with a back-to-school plan to help manage the spread of COVID-19, with McGowan announcing that elementary school children should not wear masks.

Under the plan, only teachers and secondary school students in Perth, Peel and the South West will be required to wear masks when the new school year begins on Monday.

Mr McGowan said mask-wearing would be introduced for primary-age pupils from Year 3 when the number of cases rose, but neither he nor Education Minister Sue Ellery could say how many daily infections would constitute a “high case load” – the trigger for the expansion of mask wearing.

As part of school settings in place on January 31, any child diagnosed with COVID and their entire household will be required to self-isolate for two weeks.

Children and teachers who have spent time in a classroom with the infected child will also be required to self-isolate for a fortnight.

As Seven West Media revealed on Monday, air purifiers with HEPA filters capable of capturing virus particles will be deployed in public schools across the state, with more than 12,000 to be supplied.

Ms Ellery said 1,500 carbon dioxide monitors would also be provided to ensure ventilation in classrooms was adequate.

Regular visitors to school sites will need to be vaccinated, but parents will not need to have been trapped to drop off or pick up their children at school, attend assemblies and sports carnivals or have a parent-teacher interview.

Shadow Minister for Education and Training Peter Rundle
Camera iconShadow Minister for Education and Training Peter Rundle Credit: Source of the picture

Shadow education and training minister Peter Rundle slammed the McGowan government ahead of its announcement on Tuesday, saying it had two years to come up with a plan for WA schools.

‘The Labor government has not launched a plan for our schools, which is unsurprising given the multitude of issues within the sector which have yet to be resolved,’ he said.

Quarantine-free international and interstate travel was scheduled to resume on Feb. 5, but hard border settings will now be updated on that day to allow new exemptions for interstate travelers.

These will include general compassionate reasons and those with ‘specialized skills’.

All participants will be required to self-isolate for 14 days, be triply vaccinated and undertake an onerous testing regimen.

International participants will be required to undergo seven days of hotel quarantine and seven days of home quarantine.

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