The Andrews government said it needed more time to gather advice from health experts before making a final ruling on whether schools would revert to remote learning, after the state reported 191 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday including 13 linked to schools.
Several schools have been tied to fresh cases in recent days, including the state’s second largest cluster of 90 cases at Al-Taqwa College.
“Many parents, teachers and students will be worried about what happens with the school year,” Premier Daniel Andrews said.
“I can confirm that all Year 11 and Year 12 students in metropolitan Melbourne and Mitchell Shire will go back to school for term three as planned, along with our special schools.
“For students in Prep to Year 10, we’re going to extend the school holidays by one week, so we can get more advice from our health experts.
“But I want to be upfront and let parents know that a return to remote learning for these kids is a possibility, if that’s what they tell us is safest.”
Melbourne sole parent and businesswoman Lisa Corduff said a second school shutdown would be more challenging than the first if it occurred.
“We all felt like we’d survived and got through it [in term two],” she said.
“I have to run my business, I have three children in primary school and I have to pay a babysitter.
“All the children are really sad so now we’re having to deal with the emotions of children who get what this is.”
Ms Corduff said she was worried families would implode.
“Dan Andrews said we’d done it successfully before, and I was thinking, who did it successfully?”
Year 12 Overnewton Anglican Community College student Mitch Sprague will return to school next week, but his three younger siblings will not.
Mitch, from the VicSRC student executive advisory committee, said while he did not struggle with remote learning last term, students would need more mental health support and access to devices and internet if it was repeated.
“We’ve had experience with remote learning prevoiusly so we’ve figured out what works and what doesn’t,” he said.
Australian Principal’s Federation Victorian branch president, Julie Podbury, said the state government had no choice but to halt the start of school and assess infection rates.
Ms Podbury said schools would be preparing for a possible return to remote learning and “do their best to play their part in trying to get this under control”.
Catholic Education Melbourne executive director Jim Miles said Catholic schools in Melbourne would fall into line with government schools.
Independent schools will be free to make their own decision, however their governing body has advised them to also adopt the government’s stance.
“Independent Schools Victoria has consisently recommended that independent schools act on the advice of health authories, that remains our firm recommendation,” chief executive Michelle Green said.
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Adam Carey is Education Editor. He joined The Age in 2007 and has previously covered state politics, transport, general news, the arts and food.
Madeleine Heffernan edits The Age’s Monday education page