A principal who sparked a Covid outbreak by encouraging students to come to class claims all schools should be open in lockdown.
Timothy Berryman said kids ‘get runny noses’ all the time and are more likely to get hit by a car than catch the virus.
The Fitzroy Community School in Melbourne’s inner-city has been linked to 31 Covid-19 cases after refusing to close it classrooms during Victoria’s lockdown.
Mr Berryman, whose 11-year-old son caught the virus, said the threat posed to children by the virus was extremely low and mild illness was ‘inevitable’.
‘It’s a bit like saying some children will drown and some children get run over,’ he told the Today show on Tuesday.
‘But we haven’t stopped them going on scooters and riding their bikes and getting in cars. We accept that that risk is part of it.’
Moments earlier, his mother Faye Berryman – who founded the ‘alternative’ school – was cut off by Sunrise host Natalie Barr after she defended staying open to all students.
At least 30 students and staff tested positive at Fitzroy Community Centre at Fitzroy North, Melbourne
‘The government are telling people only to send their kids to school if they are essential workers – not to do their own research and decide themselves,’ Barr said.
‘We didn’t want to be forced into doing something that was against our conscience,’ Ms Berryman replied.
‘We always hope that the legal rules line up with the model rules, but teachers were being forced to go against their conscience.’
Barr then abruptly ended the interview by admonishing the educator and telling her she had threatened the wellbeing of the wider community.
‘The trouble is that Melbourne has hundreds of cases, you got a growing outbreak and people in the extended community are at risk,’ she said.
Mr Berryman soon after on Today claimed the risk of children dying from Covid-19 was lower than that from drowning or road accidents.
‘The risk posed by drowning or by road accidents is about 10 times higher than Covid,’ he said.
‘When you run a primary school, you get children sick pretty much every day. Somebody calls in sick or has a runny nose.
‘While you don’t want any child to ever get the flu or get sick or get a cough or whatever, it’s actually inevitable and part of running a school.’
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’
Mr Berryman said he had tried to offer parents ‘the best of both worlds’ by giving them the option of on-site or remote learning.
‘I don’t know if I would have said I encouraged children to come to school,’ he said.
‘I offered full classroom teaching to those who came on-site.’
Victorian Health Minister Martin Foley on Monday said an investigation into the ‘alternative’ school in North Fitzroy would decide what sanction it should receive.
Principal Timothy Berryman (left) said the threat posed to children by the virus was extremely low and mild illness was ‘inevitable’, while the school’s founder Faye Berryman said it went against her ‘conscience’ not to keep the classroom open during lockdown
‘Our first priority is the wellbeing of those kids and their family and the staff,’ he said at the daily coronavirus press conference.
‘This school has some history when it comes to sailing pretty close to chief health officer orders.
‘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.
Philip O’Carroll, co-founder of the Fitzroy Community School, speaks to media in Melbourne on Monday
‘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.
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.’
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
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.
‘None of the kids who have Covid are sick,’ Mr Berryman told The Herald-Sun.
‘We have to accept that kids catch Covid at school. This will happen but it doesn’t make the kids desperately sick.’
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.
Darcy Wain, 15, receives a Pfizer vaccination at the Royal Exhibition Building Covid-19 Vaccination Hub in Melbourne
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.
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.