Never have I better understood the term ‘VUCA’ than this past week. Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity were at levels I have not experienced before in my place of work.
Throughout last week, teachers and support staff at St Luke’s Marsden Park just like every other school community, were unquestionably committed to ‘toe the party line’ and keep schools open as the daily volatility in response to the world wide coronarius pandemic unfolded. Staff constantly reminded students to wash their hands, cough into their elbow, maintain the hands off rule etc. etc. As a school we increased the scope of work for our cleaners, maintained a healthy provision of soap in student toilets and ensured our maintenance person cleaned each door handle every morning before the start of the school day. In contradiction, and for fear of self-shaming, we significantly reduced the amount of social media content because most photos showed students in breach of the 1.5 metre and 4 square metre guidelines.
In a world where coronavirus represents a worldwide health pandemic, the focus of state and federal leaders throughout last week was primarily economic. We heard most about the need to support business and provide economic stimulus to keep the country going. I support this approach because I understand that the prosperity of our country and its citizens depends on sound planning for the next 6-12 months. In the midst of all that proactive planning and implementation of an economic stimulus package, and amidst all the worldwide uncertainty, the message to schools and staff was to ‘soldier on and be stoic’.
By the end of the week, the war cabinet approach did not sit well with a growing number of teachers and support staff. At the beginning of the week, many were concerned. By the end of the week many were worried, even anxious, yet our students and parents would never have known. As an example, we have five members of staff confronted with the heart wrenching decision to postpone their weddings. Another of our staff has a fiance who works interstate wondering about the impact of state and territory border shut downs. There are the staff who live with parents or in laws who are aged 70+, the same people who are increasingly being encouraged to self isolate, and we have other staff who have serious health issues to manage. They have great motivation to avoid contracting coronavirus. Staff in all schools have their own personal circumstances to manage whilst putting on a brave face for the students and parents of their communities.
Our parents quite rightly questioned the contradictions and ambiguity of public messaging and the reality of school settings. Some took matters into their own hands by choosing voluntary self isolation for themselves and their children. Our absentee rate went from a long term average of 5.8% to 14.9% this past week. For those schools who use Compass to track attendance, the School Absence Averages can be seen below.
Our own Catholic Education Diocese of Parramatta (CEDP) senior educational leaders were very strong in their messaging early last week, encouraging the government to take strong and decisive action. At one stage I was of the belief that our school community would be shut down by the end of the week. However, on Wednesday we read about the ‘Government urging Catholic schools to remain open amid fears about coronavirus’; hence, a change in rhetoric by mid week.
What a week it was! Or, as one colleague shared,
No doubt, there will be many more ‘weekyears’ like it in the months to come!
Over this weekend, mixed messaging continued. Bondi, in fact, all Eastern Suburbs beaches were closed, yet we are back to school on Monday. As one tweeter wrote,
“Children don’t spread the disease at school but if at home ‘roaming the streets’ they are spreading the disease. ????”
Also, Bishop Vincent Long provided the following advice, “Catholics from the Diocese of Parramatta are from 20 March 2020 dispensed from their Sunday Mass obligation until further notice (Canon 1248 §2 and Catechism 2181.)” Something I have never been told in my life as a Catholic. Not long after, Sunday Masses across Sydney were basically shut down.
Throughout this weekend there has been constant messaging about the ‘4 square metre rule’. “Restaurants, bars, pubs and other venues are now being forced to comply with an indoor limit of one person for every four square metres.” Our Prime Minister went on to say, “In addition to that, you should continue to practise wherever possible the 1 metre or 1.5 metre of healthy distance between each of us.” Whilst the government has excluded pharmacies, grocery stores, schools, public transport and workplaces from the current occupancy rules, the reality is that schools have parents, teachers and children who can transmit the virus just as easily as patrons can in pubs, clubs, cafes and restaurants.
As an aside, I was intrigued to hear about a school who recently enjoyed a victory in an inter school event. They decided to move their celebration event, known as a rally, from an inside venue to an outdoor venue. They implemented some but not all social distancing protocols and were therefore fined $20 000 for the experience. I have not heard news that the school shut down. As such, I am assuming they continued on with classes, which again, I assume were held in spaces that could uphold social distancing protocols.
I know the government leaders are in the unenviable position of trying to please all people all of the time. It is simply not possible for them to do so. They are in a tough place. On world comparisons, our state and federal governments compare well to most nations in the measures that they have taken and the speed of implementation. I applaud them for that. They know better than all of us, that we face a complex problem of the greatest magnitude and I suspect they know that future actions will need to be taken more swiftly to avoid the of depth, width and length of the pandemic and its impact.
With that in mind, and on behalf of the community of St Luke’s Marsden Park, possibly all school communities of all sectors, I look towards our leaders for clarity at a time when we in schools cannot implement the required health protocols and social distancing guidelines asked of the wider community.
Knowing that school communities are part of and not separate from the wider community, I trust that the interests of staff, students and parents are a strong consideration when making decisions in the best interests of all.