The Herald understands that up to 10 schools have made that decision and are informing their communities from today. One of them is Alpha Omega Senior College in Auburn.
“This will involve remote teaching of students at home,” Dr Newcombe said.
“Some schools with the capacity and bandwidth to do so will teach students online. Others will set tasks and assignments using email.”
Official advice from state and federal governments is that schools do not need to close, as the virus might actually spread more if young people are free to roam through shopping centres and public areas rather than being in a classroom.
It would also force key health workers to leave their workplaces when they are needed most to look after their children. Experience overseas has shown children only experience a mild form of the virus.
Dr Chant said school closures were only effective if they were prolonged and, if schools shut now, it would be unclear when they could reopen.
“If there were still a large pool of susceptible students when schools are reopened, there would be likely to be re-emergence of transmission in the community,” she said in a statement.
“School closures may still be considered late in the outbreak in anticipation of a peak in infection rates, for a shorter period of time. Short-term reactive school closures may also be warranted to allow cleaning and contact tracing to occur.
“At this stage, the spread of COVID-19 in the community is at quite low levels. It may be many months before the level of community infection is again as low as it is at the moment.
“A decision to close campus operations now on the current level of community transmission may therefore see schools closed for many months.”
Dr Newcombe said, “AISNSW continues to strongly advise independent schools to follow NSW Department of Health advice, while recognising that schools each have different contexts.
“Boarding schools, in particular … would be required to close their boarding houses if a COVID-19 case is confirmed. Independent schools have received the same advice as government schools in regard to cancelling assemblies, excursions etc until further notice.”
Knox Grammar is closing its boarding house, and will send all of its 202 boarders – including 80 boys from overseas – home.
Parents were told in a letter on Monday that if a COVID-19 case was found in the boarding house, it would have to be locked down and students would be prevented from seeing their parents.
As a precautionary measure, the school has decided to close its boarding operations and send the boys home.
“I stress that we are not responding to any incident and that as a precautionary and voluntary measure we recommend that Boarders return to their parents or guardians and continue as day students for the foreseeable future,” head of boarding Brian Sullivan said in a letter to parents.
“This would ensure that Boarders could be with family or friends should there be a quarantining of our boarding houses.
“Boarders will also be supported to work from home through online learning experiences. Further detail regarding online learning will be provided shortly. We recognise that internet access for some families may be difficult and we will work with those families to ensure students are well supported.”
Some parents are already keeping their students at home, even though their schools are operating.
Independent school International Grammar School emailed parents on Monday saying if they had made that decision, the school would work with the family to ensure the child’s learning continued remotely.
St Andrew’s Cathedral school, which has been running trials of its online systems, said it was taking government advice to keep the school open, although with changes such as cancelling events and assemblies.
Headmaster John Collier said there were many issues to consider when closing schools, such as supervision at home and whether students would take the virus to other parts of the community, such as shopping centres.
“An early closure of schools may be very unhelpful, as medical experts predict the virus will peak in Australia in May,” he said in a letter to parents.
“Accordingly, if schools close now and open later, they may be opening at the time of greatest vulnerability.
“[An early closure] may consign us to be closed for up to six months, which is the predicted life of any epidemic in Australia. We have real doubts as to whether our parents, and indeed our students, could cope with a closure of that length, given the supervision requirements of our younger students and the sophisticated curriculum requirements of our older students.”
Jordan Baker is Education Editor of The Sydney Morning Herald