Panicked parents have now said they will keep their children at home until the situation is resolved.
On Wednesday, The Age revealed Mentone Primary principal Marcelle van Maanen intended to replicate the 14-day isolation policy of multiple Victorian private schools.
On Wednesday afternoon Ms van Maanen emailed parents announcing all students who had visited China in the school holidays, as well as six exchange students due to arrive next week, must stay in isolation for two weeks from their arrival in Australia.
However Ms van Maanen contacted parents again on Thursday morning with a straight-worded message, reiterating the state government’s guidance.
“I am writing to provide you with a further update about coronavirus and clarification about our advice for families,” her message read.
“The Chief Health Officer’s current advice is that staff and students do not need to be isolated at home if they have recently travelled in other parts of China or other countries and are not showing any symptoms of the virus. This advice … is being implemented in all Victorian government schools.”
Mentone Primary’s enforced U-turn is another development in the school sector’s divided approach to managing coronavirus, with a sixth case in Australia confirmed on Thursday.
Ms van Maanen has assured parents that none of the exchange students had visited Wuhan, a city of 11 million now in quarantine, or the surrounding Hubei region.
One parent nonetheless said on Wednesday that she intended to keep her child at home for the two weeks of the Chinese students’ exchange, despite the inconvenience for her and her husband.
“We’re not the only ones … I just don’t think in this sort of situation you can be overcautious,” she said.
“If it takes hold in a school, it won’t be one child that goes down sick, it will be lots. Kids don’t listen to hand hygiene, that goes in one ear and out the other.”
The parent said “everyone at the school is really tense and nervous”.
“I just don’t understand why the department wouldn’t just exclude people,” she said.
“It’s not a big ask, and I think it would just make families across the entire state more comfortable knowing we are getting the same quality of care for our children as those in NSW or in [some] private schools here.”
Ms van Maalen did not respond to calls on Thursday.
Anne-Maree Kliman, president of the Victorian Principals Association, confirmed public schools are not allowed to diverge from the education department’s advice.
“No doubt the issue is emotive and causing angst for parent communities, which makes the matter more complex for principals,” she said.
Education Department spokesman Steve Tolley said “all government schools received updated advice late on January 29. Mentone PS conveyed this to their school community as was appropriate.”
Michael is a reporter for The Age.