As the 2022 school year begins, schools once again find themselves the focus of ongoing debates around safety, freedom and responsibility.
St Columba has chosen to follow the vaccination mandates imposed during the pandemic, and will continue to insist on all our staff being fully vaccinated as a part of our WHS and Duty of Care responsibilities.
While we acknowledge that some may see this as a breach of individual freedom of choice, we believe the safety of our staff and students, in our current circumstances, outweigh the right of the individual to choose not to be vaccinated and still work at St Columba.
Living in a society and being part of a community have always required the individual to sacrifice some level of personal freedom so as to gain the benefit of belonging and we know that studies have shown that participating in activities that have a “bigger” focus than individual desire improves mental wellbeing.
“To be truly free, take full responsibility for all of your choices, conscious and unconscious. This means accepting the consequences of all your actions. This also includes responsibility for the times when you chose to give up your freedom for one reason or another.”
As parents watch their children leave for St Columba each day, we hope they are aware that our school places great weight in creating a culture at the school that is not only supportive, effective and exciting but one that places considerations of safety for anyone who sets foot on our campus as an ongoing priority.
Vaccinations, masks, sign-ins, Rapid Antigen tests, good ventilation and social distancing all offer some measure of protection from the COVID variants but we can never be certain that our school is “completely safe”.
“If you are sending a child off to school next week, please think not just of your own child’s health, but also that of their teachers and classmates. It’s going to be inconvenient to do these tests but hopefully it works, and we don’t find ourselves back learning from home. There are not enough funny memes to get me through a third round of that. Our kids need hope. If we all play our part, we can give them a positive start to the school year. Ugh, I mean an optimistic start. Damn you COVID. Messing with our words too. It’s really going to take the whole village for this to work.” Meena Evers freelance writer, SMH, 27/1/2022.
What we can do is trust those whose life’s work has been gathering knowledge of what increases the physical and psychological wellbeing of those who make up our school community – and then use this knowledge to make the best choices possible.
“There is now conclusive evidence that pandemic-related school closures cause significant harm. Schools provide not just education, but a place for children to be active, to enhance their social and emotional development, and shield them from potentially unsafe home environments. Children’s brains have particularly important periods where learning and development are crucial, and a generation of disrupted learning contributes to poor health and lower life expectancy in the long-term.”
Archana Koirala, Phoebe Williams, Paediatricians and infectious diseases physicians, University of Sydney. SMH, 27/1/2022
Our school has the privilege of a level of freedom in how it operates and the way in which it is able to adapt its actions and priorities to suit the needs of its community. This freedom to set our schedule, to decide on the way we teach and make decisions is what makes us an independent school. The obverse of this freedom is that we have to take responsibility for our actions on the ground and cannot pass responsibility off to some central office.
The existence of independent schools like ours allows parents freedom of choice. Parents can determine if the style of education we offer best suits their family’s ethos, aspirations and needs. At the same time, the enrollment contract has an expectation that the school has a reasonable expectation that our students and their families respect the right of the school to teach and impose its rules.
Both parties bear the responsibility of meeting this contractual obligation.
In the end, we only exist to serve our community by providing an education in an environment that is as safe and supportive as possible and acting in a manner that provides a sense of certainty that allows our students to feel free to reach out for opportunity, knowledge and a bright future.
“The secret ingredients to true happiness? Decisive optimism and personal responsibility.” A.L. Mercree.
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