Halls Head College school principal stood down after coronavirus plea for parents to keep children home

A WA school principal has been stood down from her role for urging parents to keep students home at the start of term two, against Education Department advice.

Bronwyn White, who was principal of Halls Head College near Mandurah, was not on site for the first day of the new term after sending a letter to parents asking only children of essential workers or those unable to stay home attend in the first week back.

The plea appeared to contradict the advice of WA Premier Mark McGowan and Education Minister Sue Ellery, who had insisted in the lead-up to the first day that children should be encouraged to attend, but that parents had the option to keep them home if they wished.

“Obviously, we will do our best to accommodate every learner who attends face to face,” Ms White’s letter said.

“However, we cannot adequately apply physical distancing and safety requirements if we have the entire College community recommencing Week 1. We simply do not have the physical space required with 1,450 students.

“Currently we have placed an order for critical and additional cleaning supplies but have been told these are in short supply and at this point it is unlikely these will be available for the commencement of school.

“The Department has acquired the necessary supplies for all schools, however at this point I can’t guarantee they will be ready for Day One.”

Ms White reassured parents online learning would continue for students at home.

“Staff have put a lot of effort into preparing these online and ‘offline’ work packages and resources to avoid a loss of momentum in student learning,” she said in the letter.

A letter, then a retraction

The message to parents was sent last Friday, before a retraction was issued on Tuesday — the day before term two was set to recommence.

“I apologise for any confusion created by the letter sent out last Friday,” Ms White wrote.

“I need to retract the letter sent last week that was not in line with Departmental expectations. I am writing to confirm that school is open for all students to attend.

“The expectation is that school will be running as per normal. All classes will run Face to Face with a normal timetable operating and both at home and online learning will also be accommodated.”

The WA Department of Education confirmed Alen Kursur had been appointed as acting principal, but said any matter relating to an individual’s employment was confidential and it would be inappropriate to provide any detail.

Teachers at odds with Premier over school return

Last week Ms Ellery said schools would be open for all students to attend, but parents would have the choice to keep their children home.

Year 11 and 12 students were strongly advised to attend.

But the return to school was marked by a public fight between the Government and the State School Teachers Union of WA, which posted full-page newspaper adverts asking for parents to keep children home.

A newspaper advert titled "an important message from the state school teachers union of WA".
The union posted a full page newspaper advert on Friday urging parents to keep children at home.(ABC News: Gavin Johns)

This came after confusion about whether a 1.5 metre social distancing rule should be applied in schools in line with official health advice. The union was concerned this was impractical in a class setting.

But Prime Minister Scott Morrison later clarified the advice had been updated to make clear it did not apply in school classes.

Sue Ellery speaks into a microphone.
WA’s Education Minister Sue Ellery insisted it was safe for children to return to school.(ABC News: Hugh Sando)

Ms Ellery reaffirmed the 1.5 metre social distancing rule did not apply in schools in line with health advice.

“The advice has been from the beginning — and is now, because of the low risk of transmission — schools are safe for staff and students, and should stay open,” Ms Ellery said on Friday.

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