After telling parents on Monday morning it would open on Tuesday for senior students and those who cannot learn from home, the school had to contact parents again late on Monday saying it would remain shut because the Department of Health had not completed contact tracing.
Senior staff told The Age that, to their knowledge, contact tracing had not even begun on Monday, let alone been completed.
Even so, the Education Department said late on Sunday that the school should reopen.
“Your school, Manor Lakes P-12 College, can reopen from Tuesday, 28 July, now that appropriate cleaning and contact tracing has been completed,” the department said.
An assistant principal at the college, who declined to be identified, said the conflicting advice was “just a dog’s breakfast”.
“It’s like the Department of Education and the Department of Health don’t communicate with each other. One tells us one thing and the other one is doing something else.” they said.
A Department of Health spokesperson said contact tracing at Manor Lakes was due to be completed by the end of Tuesday, and thanked the school, students and parents for their patience and co-operation.
“All positive cases are interviewed by the contact tracing team and every effort is made to speak to their close contacts as soon as possible,” the spokesperson said.
On Tuesday the Australian Principals Federation criticised the Department of Health for its “staggeringly poor” management of positive cases in schools, claiming schools had been left waiting for days for advice on how to handle closure and contact tracing.
Federation president Julie Podbury called for the Department of Health to be stripped of responsibility for communicating with schools, with that duty going solely to the Education Department.
But Premier Daniel Andrews on Tuesday defended the Department of Health’s handling of COVID-19 cases in schools.
“I don’t think that’s a fair criticism. I think everyone’s doing their best,” he said.
Mr Andrews said the public health advice was consistent that schools were “very low risk”. He said attendance rates were still high.
“If the public health advice changed, then of course our policy on schools would change, but it has not,” he said.
Mr Andrews said the government had a proven policy of closing and deep-cleaning schools after a COVID-19 case was confirmed.
“I’m not expecting any principal to be pleased about the fact that they’ve had multiple positive cases in their school,” he said.
“It’s not a pleasant experience for a school to go through, but we’ve got to get our year 12 kids through, and that’s what these policy settings are all about.”
Adam Carey is Education Editor. He joined The Age in 2007 and has previously covered state politics, transport, general news, the arts and food.
Michael is a state political reporter for The Age.
Madeleine Heffernan edits The Age’s Monday education page