The federal government’s offer on Tuesday is at odds with the current Victorian government advice that schools should maintain remote learning for the duration of term two.
A majority of independent schools contacted by The Age this week said they would not accept the government’s offer, despite financial difficulties that have resulted in staff being stood down at some schools.
Independent Schools Victoria chief executive Michelle Green said a majority of its member schools had decided not to apply for the funding.
“Close to 70 schools have indicated their intentions. Of these more than 60 have decided not to apply for the federal government’s offer,” she said.
“Many of these schools indicated that their decision was based on a matter of principle – they felt they had been unfairly asked to balance a financial inducement with the health of their staff and students.”
Wesley College principal Nick Evans said the health and safety of his school community was paramount.
He said the school would continue to follow state government medical advice as a priority.
“We’re not making a political point here,” he said.
“As far as we’re concerned we’re in Victoria and the Chief Health Officer is the authority to which we’ll listen.
“Our plan is contingent on health advice and we didn’t want to apply for the funding without making that condition.”
Mr Evans said the school, which charges annual fees of $34,610 for year 10 to 12 students, made the decision despite facing financial losses.
“We’ve taken a substantial revenue hit,” he said.
“It’s an unfolding story; we don’t know yet how big a revenue hit it is. Many of our families have been affected by the economic crisis.”
He said many schools were already making plans to resume classroom teaching because it would be a time-consuming process when the decision is made to open classrooms.
“It takes some preparation. What we really have to consider is how to socially distance the adults, that’s the medical advice. It’s not simply a matter of just re-commencing everyone on site just like that.”
Overnewton Anglican Community College principal Jim Lawson said his school had made the decision not to submit an application to the federal government scheme, despite also losing a significant amount in fees.
“We had a board meeting and we asked all the right questions but there was really only one decision,” he said.
“We’ll continue to wait until May 11 and follow the guidance of state leaders.
“I had a Zoom meeting with a group of principals just last night and none of us were taking it.”
Mr Lawson said parents had been vocal about not returning to face-to-face teaching against health advice.
“We have had an extraordinary response from families, with the vast majority saying ‘please wait until May 11, please follow the guidance’.”
Beth Blackwood, chief of the Association of Heads of Independent Schools Australia, said Victorian principals were more likely to follow state government advice.
Anna is a breaking and general news reporter at The Age.