EXCLUSIVE

Halls Head College principal stood down after urging parents to keep children home

Halls Head College principal Bronwyn White has been stood down pending an investigation after requesting parents keep their children home. Photos: File image.
Halls Head College principal Bronwyn White has been stood down pending an investigation after requesting parents keep their children home. Photos: File image.

A Mandurah school principal has been stood down pending an investigation overnight after urging parents to keep their children home despite the state government's decision to reopen schools this week.

Halls Head College principal Bronwyn White wrote to parents on Friday, April 24 expressing concerns the school could not "adequately apply physical distancing and safety requirements" should the entire student population return for the start of Term 2 on Wednesday, April 29.

Ms White also outlined fears there would be a lack of cleaning supplies and hygiene products available to students and staff.

"We simply do not have the physical space required with 1450 students," Ms White wrote.

"Currently we have placed an order for critical and additional cleaning supplied 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."

Ms White requested only children of essential workers or those unable to stay at home attend school for the first week of the term (April 29 - May 1), with only Year 11 and 12 students returning for weeks two and three.

A full retraction of the letter

But a full retraction of the letter followed on Tuesday, just one day before the school's return date, with the principal saying her proposal was "not in line with departmental expectations".

"I need to retract the letter sent last week that was not in line with Departmental expectations," she wrote.

"I am writing to confirm that school is open for all students to attend."

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But Ms White wasn't on deck for the return of Term 2, with the Department of Education confirming Alen Kursar had been named acting principal in the interim.

Teachers 'bewildered'

A member of the school community who contacted the Mail said teachers were bewildered.

"Everyone supported her decision and understood her reasons for sending out the email," they said.

"She has so much respect in the school community.

"Teachers don't know how to find the space if all students return. It's just not right that she has been stood down because of this.

"Now everyone has been told not to speak and no one can understand why there is so much secrecy around it."

Another person, who also did not wish to be named, said teachers were "shocked" and angry that they were being left in the dark.

The re-opening of public schools across WA was announced by Premier Mark McGowan on Friday, April 17, with parents able to choose whether their children would attend or not.

The Premier strongly encouraged all Year 11 and 12 students to return to school, saying health advice had given them the green light.

WA Premier Mark McGowan also ramped up pressure on independent schools and Catholic Education to reopen. Image: File Photo

WA Premier Mark McGowan also ramped up pressure on independent schools and Catholic Education to reopen. Image: File Photo

"If parents don't feel comfortable sending their kids to school, for whatever reason, they will not be obligated to do so," he said.

"However, Year 11 and 12 students are very strongly encouraged to attend."

Pressure ramping up

Mr McGowan has also ramped up pressure on independent schools and Catholic Education to reopen, including suggesting they offer partial school fee refunds to parents to compensate for a lack of in-class learning.

He said he hoped the decision to only offer remote classes would be reconsidered.

"We've made the decision about public schools on the best of health and the best of education advice," he said.

"The health advice is there is a very low ... risk for staff and students by reopening schools."

A lot of anxiety, a lot of chaos

But the return of school was met with backlash from State School Teachers Union of Western Australia (SSTUWA) president Pat Byrne, who warned a reopening would cause "a lot of anxiety, a lot of chaos and a lot of disorder at the beginning of term".

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"Teachers were surprised, and quite frankly felt a strong sense of betrayal given they had [been] preparing for a particular scenario," Ms Byrne said.

"There is a lot of anger from teachers around that particular situation."

Ms Byrne said the union would support and "provide advice" to Ms White over the coming weeks.