COVID given as the reason for cancelling face-to-face school gathering

Sally Gall
By Sally Gall
Updated February 2 2022 - 12:45am, first published January 27 2022 - 9:30pm
Capricornia SDE students such as Korven Fletcher, Mount Coolon, Liam Holzwart, Charters Towers, and Mac Bradford, Clermont. won't be able to meet face to face if a school plan goes ahead. Picture supplied.

News that the annual induction days at the Emerald campus of the Capricornia School of Distance Education will take place online this year is distressing families, who say they are being discriminated against.

They were advised by principal Amanda Rynne by email that "due to COVID-19 impacts" the executive leadership team had decided to reformat the usual face-to-face gathering that gives tutors, students and teachers a chance to become familiar with each other, and with the school's procedures.

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Juliet McConochie, KiaOra, Alpha, has three CSDE students and said it wasn't fair for them, when they get very little face-to-face contact as it is.

"It is not logical that every other student in Queensland is back face-to-face on a daily basis with all schools statewide open from 7 February but we are being told our students can't be on campus due to COVID-19 risks," she said.

"The reasons given are simply unfounded - National Cabinet guidelines and current department rules are that schools are re-opening and all functions and events days are to be as per normal unless a school is closed, which isn't the case here."

Fellow parent Megan Philp, based at Nebo, also said she felt they were being treated unfairly.

"This highly valuable time is when our students meet their teachers and fellow students. Most importantly home tutors learn school procedures, systems and gain an understanding required to run an isolated classroom and deliver the curriculum for the entire school year," she said.

She added that putting the cancellation down to COVID-related issues was concerning.

"This way of rationalising makes me worry if our regular scheduled mini-schools will even go ahead.

"I hope this isn't the start of many on-campus events being cancelled in 2022, using COVID-19 as the excuse"

The P&C fought a protracted battle last year when families were shut out of on-campus accommodation at the Emerald campus, that they had largely funded the construction of.

Kelly McDonald, the school's P&C president and mother/home tutor of an 8-year-old student at the school, wrote in with her concerns too, citing concerns relating to the inability to set up the important bond between teachers and students at the start of the year, in an online setting.

She said new families would be struggling enough at home alone with unfamiliar technology, and with all the etiquette rules, without having to try and negotiate them online.

Because distance education students spend so much of their learning time in isolation, she emphasised the importance of this physical interaction to their mental wellbeing.

"Getting to know each other and having a familiar face you can comfortably reach out to if you need help is so important and should be a priority within our school," she said.

In her response, Ms Rynne said she shared the disappointment and acknowledged the importance of face-to-face events for students, home tutors, parents and staff.

"Please know that this was not an easy decision, but one that was made in the best interests of our students and staff," she said.

"The Chief Health Officer has indicated that our collective workforce might be reduced by 50 per cent as we reach the peak of this latest COVID-19 wave and for this reason I have to consider the best way to manage teaching and learning at the school, and the health and wellbeing of all members of our school community.

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"Regrettably, we will not be able to reschedule the induction day; however, I look forward to our next opportunity for face to face interaction at week 6 mini-school."

The induction event for the Rockhampton campus has also been cancelled.

A spokesperson for the Department of Education said it supported supports principals to make local decisions regarding their schools and to take appropriate precautionary measures in consideration of the latest health advice.

"The department remains in constant contact with school leaders state-wide and will continue to work closely with parents and school communities to keep everyone up to date with the best possible advice," the spokesperson said.

A question about what other schools in the state were cancelling face-to-face interaction due to COVID concerns was unanswered.

The government's whole back to school plan was delayed this week when Education Minister Grace Grace returned a COVID-positive result and isolated as a result.

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Opposition education spokesman Christian Rowan said who made the announcement shouldn't matter, and called on the government to release a plan for a way forward generally.

"For weeks, parents, teachers, students, and the opposition have been demanding to know what the state government's plan is for a comprehensive return to school for all students," he said.

"As opposed to listening to the options on the table, the government has failed to deliver any definitive plan at all, despite assurances that this would be released following the Cabinet meeting."

A letter with 30 signatures expressing the concern of Capricornia SDE parents and tutors for the loss of their face-to-face event was sent to the Education Department on Wednesday.

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Sally Gall

Sally Gall

Senior journalist - Queensland Country Life/North Queensland Register

Based at Blackall, CW Qld, where I've raised a family, run Merino sheep and beef cattle, and helped develop a region - its history, tourism, education and communications.

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