CEO Update | 17 March 2020

We are living through interesting days and I commend you for the leadership you are showing to your school communities. I want to assure you that CSA staff will be available right through this national crisis. Our offices will remain open and functional at all times. Please reach out to us, as many of you are already doing, if you need support, advice or direction. We are another set of hands to call upon.

A. School Closures and COVID-19

As reported in the media, a very small number of schools have already determined to close as a result of the outbreak (12 out of 9000 schools).  We know that in some schools a small number of vocal parents are making similar calls for their school to close.

The Commonwealth and State/Territory Governments, acting on the advice of public health experts, are very clearly considering the issue of school closures. We know that it was discussed last Sunday and will be discussed again on Friday, 20 March. The advice to date has clearly been that schools should remain open, although this continues to be monitored.

The schools which have closed, in the main, are boarding schools. They have made this decision as a pre-emptive move to ensure infected boarders are not prevented from leaving the school. To not send home boarders now could end up as a “cruise ship” scenario with students and staff unable to leave once an outbreak occurs.

CSA is taking advice from public health experts and we encourage individual schools to do likewise. As a service to members we are providing a summary of information from leading sources in our updates and these can be accessed from our website (see Section B below).

Given the active consideration being assigned to school closures, however, all schools should be planning for the possibility of mandatory closures and the provision of ongoing education during such a closure. In addition, parents can be encouraged to start planning for the possibility of a school closure and consider what measures they will put in place if children cannot be accommodated at school for an extended period of time (see Section C below).

B. Regular Updates

CSA is providing regular updates and resources as information comes to hand.  All our resources around this outbreak are being made freely available to all Christian schools. These resources, and other information, can be accessed by all Christian schools here. Further resources are being added daily.

C. Staged Approach

Rather than jump to full school closures, parents, students and staff should see the school taking a staged approach.

If there is a COVID-19 infection in the School community it will most likely result in a short-term closure for cleaning and identification of those with close contact for isolation.  In these situations, to date, schools have generally reopened within a matter of days.

Broader mandated closures of schools as a public health strategy will result in a longer-term closure.
It is important to remind parents that when schools are closed under a mandated closure, it will likely take months before they will open again. The danger for schools is not just closing too late, but also reopening too early again and exposing children to infection still lingering in the community.
Schools need to clearly think through the steps they are taking and the level of response they are enacting. Below are some ideas around the steps schools can take before an eventual decision for closure:

Level 1.  Increased hygiene measures in the school
(daily cleaning procedures, personal hygiene, social distancing), as well as increased monitoring of student health.

Level 2.  Cancelling of all non-essential activities
(assemblies, chapel, excursion, staff meetings and professional development).

Level 3.  Facility layout and use shut down areas
which may cause greater transmission (e.g. cafeteria dining spaces, student/staff lounges). Schools should space desks in rooms and encourage outdoor teaching. Ventilate rooms by keeping windows and doors open, where possible.

Level 4.  Minimise cross-infection opportunities in larger schools
ensure playgrounds have smaller numbers by cascading break times. Further limit numbers by allocating play areas for children. Consider how to maintain separation of staff, especially within faculty areas.  Isolation of a single English teacher is much easier to manage than isolation of the whole English faculty.

Level 5.  School development of online/remote capabilities
This includes not only student curriculum delivery, but also admin functions such as payroll, server functionality, etc.

Level 6.  Parent forums for around home preparation 
What do you need your parents to be doing now to prepare? (Supervision for children if schools shut, a space to study, technology – computers/wi-fi/printers) What different preparations need to be taken for smaller children – those who are too small to be online?

Level 7.  Discuss now with students what a school closure will look like 
What will happen to exams and matriculation? How will work be transmitted? Will classes run by the current timetable? What platforms will the school be using? How will students socialise? In the event of broader closure we expect formal advice from State/Territory governments on procedures for senior students – schools should expect this advice and make sure they accommodate it to minimise disruption for those students at a critical time in their studies.

Level 8.  Train students, parents and staff 
The platforms need to be learned and tested. Do a trial night or day to work all the bugs and problems out of the system.  This provides a further opportunity to instil confidence in your school community about preparedness.

Level 9.  Short Term closure caused by student/staff infection
What happens when a student is identified with Covid-19? How will you close the school and inform parents? How will the school be sanitised? How will you identify those at risk? What process will you use to bring staff and students back to school?

Level 10.  Long term closure mandated by local authorities or government
Besides the online curriculum, how will the essential services of the school run – such as servers and payroll? (especially if staff are not permitted to travel) How might you use nurses and chaplains, etc. during this time most effectively. What provisions will you make for security of the school? How will you handle employment of part-time staff such as bus drivers, instrumental music teachers, etc?

Level 11.  Return to school process and procedures
Governments will no-doubt dictate when this occurs. What cleaning might occur throughout the school before students return? How might you plan for large scale absences of students and staff?

Level 12.  Fatality
How will the school deal with a fatality in the community?
What support might be offered?
When and how communication will take place to staff and the wider community?

D. Communication and Education

It is essential to keep communication with the community open (eg. staff/students/parents). Regular small updates will provide the community with a confidence that the school is active and that they have a plan in place. Communication also provides an opportunity to educate parents too about how they can be prepared and how they may support their children from home. Several schools have been hosting online forums, streaming updates, etc.

Additionally, communication channels need to be open to parents to communicate concerns, fears and ideas. Schools who have medically trained staff or parents, with appropriate and relevant qualifications and experience, have started to develop working groups to support the school in their decision making, communication and strategy development.

E. Global Situation

I am in regular contact with the global community of Christian schools. Many of the global schools are in countries with very limited access to hospitals and medical services. There are many that when they make the decision to close may never open again – their finances are that stretched.

Churches are also experiencing significant pressure as missionaries and support staff providing foreign aid have also been the carriers of COVID-19. Please keep them in your prayers. In the days ahead, we will be called upon to not only help those who are most needy in our own country, but globally, as well.

F. Conferences and Events

As a national association, we are trying to keep abreast of the various restrictions imposed at federal and state levels. We consider the health and safety of all our participants and attendees to be paramount. In addition, we, as an organisation, want to play our part to ensure that those most vulnerable in our communities are not jeopardised by the actions we take. Details of our latest National Event update can be found on the event pages via the links below:

Cancelled:  Christian Schools National Policy Forum – 2020

Continuing:  CSA Leaders’ Summit, August 2020

Continuing:  Christian Schools National Business Conference – 2020

In closing…

This is a time for Christian schools to shine God’s love and light. I am so pleased to report of schools who have already started food banks for the needy in their communities. I rejoice in the families opening their homes for children of parents who are working in frontline medical services. I praise God for the students who are checking in on elderly neighbours and doing their shopping or community errands for them.

In the darkness, we have an opportunity to show God’s love.
For we have not been given a spirit of fear, but a spirit of power, love and of self-discipline (2 Tim 1:7).

God keep you at this difficult time. Please reach out to me directly, or one of our staff, if we can support you in any way.

Warm regards

CEO | Christian Schools Australia