From The Principal

11 October 2021

This article first appeared in Queenwood News Weekly Friday 8 October 2021.

A week may be a long time in politics, but a day is an eternity in a pandemic. Things are moving very quickly again and I am grateful for the engagement and support of our parent community in recent days as we have worked with you to formulate our response.

At the end of last term, I wrote to parents about the three-stage return (Kindergarten, Year 1 and Year 12 in the first week; then Years 2, 6 and 11 in the next week; then remaining year groups in the next week) which was announced by the government. The government’s plan was predicated on their estimate that NSW would reach the 70% double vaccination threshold around 25 October. Happily, vaccination rates have climbed more quickly than anticipated, and just before the beginning of this term, it was announced that the three-stage return would be moved forward a week, to commence on 18 October 2021.

In my briefing to parents on Wednesday night, I put to parents the possibility that we might move faster still, starting the return on this coming Monday, and that we could do so responsibly because:

  • The 70% threshold has been reached across NSW as intended prior to schools reopening. In the LGAs where our students live, the rates are closer to 80% and amongst our Queenwood community are higher still.
  • The strongest form of protection for unvaccinated children is to surround them with fully vaccinated adults, particularly in the home, which is where they are most likely to contract COVID-19. From the data we have received for parents, it is clear that Queenwood’s community has very high rates of adult vaccination. 
  • In the over-12s, there has been strong uptake across NSW and particularly within the Queenwood community. 
  • Case numbers are relatively low in our part of Sydney.
  • Queenwood staff are mostly fully vaccinated and those who are partially vaccinated will not return to campus until they are. Similarly, no parents are permitted on campus under the public health order and no other adult will be permitted on campus unless fully vaccinated.

We recognise, however, that there are proper and reasonable concerns about returning children to school and the question of when to return is ultimately an assessment of probability and risk. In other words, there is no ‘correct’ answer and, whether we begin the staged return on 11 October or any other date, we are moving into a new normal, in which COVID-19 is endemic and the question is when, rather than if, we will have a case in our community, our family circle or on campus.

In the briefing, we outlined our COVID-safety measures, latest information from NSW Health and the issues which are posing the most questions amongst parents (eg how younger children will manage with masks). Rather than attempting to repeat it all here, you can catch up with those briefings; the links are in the notices below.

In order to make an informed assessment of risk, we asked parents at the end of last term to provide us with the vaccination status of their daughters (12 years or over) and members of the household. This information is vital to our planning for return, especially for the year groups due to return first. I am sure you will be reassured to know that the vaccination rate of Year 12 students is not far off 100%. For Kindergarten and Year 1, after a bit of a push to get the survey completed by parents, 93% of families have now responded. These families report that in their households, 98% of those eligible are fully vaccinated and 99% have had at least one jab. The data for other year groups is still being sought and analysed but the signs could hardly be more promising for the safety of our community.

On this basis, I am delighted to confirm that we will be able to welcome Kindergarten, Year 1 and Year 12 back to campus on Monday. We need a little more time to gather the data for other year groups but we certainly seem to be on track for the dates proposed in the briefing, ie. 18 October for Years 2, 6 and 11; 25 October for the rest of the school. This will be confirmed next week.

Our community as a whole will benefit enormously from the decisions of each individual and we are entitled to congratulate ourselves, I think, on having escaped the political and social forces that have hindered vaccination efforts in other communities. We will, however, face another challenge. How will we respond to the few who do not share our beliefs?
I am unabashedly pro-vaccination. I can list all the reasons why – from the abstract and scientific, to my responsibilities as Principal, through to my concern for those in my family and friends who have been at severe risk even after vaccination. I have been urging staff and families from the start to protect themselves and those they love by seeking out vaccination as soon as possible. But there will be amongst any group a small number of people who, though eligible for vaccination, have chosen otherwise. How will we respond to them? 

I don’t need to tell you how much anger and frustration can be experienced on both sides. In our case, the pro-vaccination sentiment is so close to universal that those who are already hesitant will easily come to feel isolated or attacked. On an issue as important as vaccination, feelings run high and there will be a strong temptation amongst the majority to try to win the argument, even at the cost of losing the person on the other side. If, however, the objective is to persuade that person and not just enjoy the internal satisfaction of knowing we are right, then pursuing the issue with a battering ram is unwise. Showing contempt is even less effective.

I am more than happy to explain to anyone why they should get vaccinated. Indeed, I have had quite a few conversations along these lines already. I feel strongly, however, that no matter the context, every person is entitled to be treated with dignity and courtesy and children, especially, should not be judged or ridiculed for the choices of their parents. I ask all parents, therefore, to be conscious of how they discuss these issues, particularly in front of their children. Not least because, while respecting differences of opinion, I remain hopeful that as many as possible will ultimately be persuaded to take this important step, and having difficult conversations in the spirit of friendship is the only way to do it.

If we want our girls ultimately to be a force for good in the world, they will have to learn how to negotiate difference. The art of living together with widely different views is the foundation of civilisation itself. I recently heard it described as the art of “bringing order to the world through love not violence”. I hope that we will give the girls the best possible example in coming months.