A principal who sparked a Covid outbreak by encouraged students to attend school during lockdown for their mental health has been shamed by health authorities as he and the school face huge fines.
Fitzroy Community School principal Timothy Berryman repeatedly encouraged parents to send their children to the school while Victoria was in lockdown.
Victorian Health Minister Martin Foley said an investigation into the ‘alternative’ school in North Fitzroy would decide what sanction it should receive.
‘Our first priority is the wellbeing of those kids and their family and the staff,’ he said at Monday’s coronavirus press conference.
‘This school has some history when it comes to sailing pretty close to chief health officer orders.
Fitzroy Community School Principal Timothy Berryman wrote to parents: ‘Please feel free to send your child to school if you feel that this is best for them or best for your family balance’
‘Our compliance people – after the priority of responding to the outbreak is dealt with – will investigate the matter and based on whatever outcomes they come up with, take appropriate action.’
The independent primary school was identified yesterday by Victorian deputy chief health officer Dan O’Brien as the source of an outbreak affecting 31 students and staff as of Monday.
Mr Foley would not be drawn on whether Mr Berryman and the school would face fines of thousands of dollars or possible deregistration of the school or Mr Berryman.
‘I think everyone should follow the chief health officer’s orders. And that where you don’t, there are consequences,’ he said.
‘Not the least being kids get sick. Families get sick.’
Up to 60 children were attending classes each day and more than 180 people were close contacts, making the school a Tier 1 exposure site.
At least 30 students and staff tested positive at Fitzroy Community Centre at Fitzroy North, Melbourne
Philip O’Carroll, co-founder of the Fitzroy Community School, speaks to media in Melbourne on Monday
Mr Berryman told parents he could not ‘in good conscience’ continue to request they kept their children at home.
‘Please feel free to send your child to school if you feel that this is best for them or best for your family balance,’ the email seen by The Age read.
‘I do not write this lightly, as this does breach government imposed directives for schools.’
He argued children should come to school to protect their mental health and transmission of Covid in children was negligible.
Mr Berryman was later warned that his encouragement to parents was in breach of health directive at the time but in late July, he continued to suggest they send their children to the school.
‘I am again offering you all the option of sending your children to school,’ he wrote.
Mr Berryman told The Herald-Sun that his son, 11, contracted coronavirus but that he was otherwise well.
‘None of the kids who have Covid are sick,’ he said.
‘We have to accept that kids catch Covid at school. This will happen but it doesn’t make the kids desperately sick.’
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews would not commit to a date when students would be able to return to school in the state at Sunday’s Covid-19 update
On the ‘information’ section of the school’s website are links to numerous articles about the dangers of lockdowns to the mental health of children and the minimal risk of Covid-19 to younger people.
On its homepage, the school states that it has its ‘own unique style of operation’.
‘Our school has a relaxed atmosphere and good outcomes at the same time. Children are keen on learning and keen on coming to school.’
A local who lives near the school wrote in social media that the school, as part of the local community, had an obligation to follow health rules ‘for themselves and all those around them’.
‘Did the school follow DHHS directives for remote learning? Did they have adequate Covid protocols for staff and students?’ they wrote.
‘Were symptomatic staff or students present at the school during the last week, and how was this addressed?
‘Bloody disgusting that the school was not following the health directives,’ wrote another person on the Vic Exposure Sites Facebook group.
The school was founded in 1976 by Philip O’Carroll and Faye Berryman in their home on Brunswick Street, North Fitzroy, from where it still operates.
It also has a second campus on Normanby Avenue in Thornbury.
Darcy Wain, 15, receives a Pfizer vaccination at the Royal Exhibition Building Covid-19 Vaccination Hub in Melbourne
Premier Dan Andrews has yet to set a date when Victorian students might return to school.
He said on Sunday the plan for a return to face-to-face schooling would be released in another week.
It’s not clear as yet whether all school years would return to class at the same time, nor what restrictions would be placed on students attending classes.
The decision is reportedly dependent on Burnet Institute modelling, with scenarios drafted by the Victorian Department of Education awaiting chief health officer Brett Sutton’s approval based on the modelling.
From Monday, children aged between 12 and 15 years will be able to book a Covid-19 Pfizer vaccine.
Bookings will be available through GPs and Commonwealth Vaccination Clinics.