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The principal of an independent primary school in Melbourne’s north who repeatedly invited parents to send their children to school while the city was in lockdown has had his teaching registration suspended over concerns he poses a risk to children.
The Victorian Institute of Teaching suspended Fitzroy Community School principal Timothy Berryman’s teaching registration on an interim basis on Wednesday, pending an investigation.
Fitzroy Community School principal Tim Berryman has had had his teaching licence suspended over concerns he poses an unacceptable risk of harm to children.Credit:Justin McManus
The regulator is the third authority to probe child safety standards at the small alternative school that Mr Berryman runs since The Age revealed its repeated breaches of public-health orders last month.
The dual-campus school is also being investigated by the Department of Health and the Victorian Registration and Qualifications Authority over its COVID-safety practices.
A spokeswoman for the Victorian Institute of Teaching declined to provide details of the investigation into Mr Berryman while it is under way, but said the institute has the power to suspend a teacher’s registration if “the teacher poses an unacceptable risk of harm to children” or the suspension “is necessary to protect children”.
More than 60 students, staff and family members were infected with COVID-19 as a result of an outbreak at the school’s Fitzroy North campus last month.
But Mr Berryman was defiant on Wednesday, insisting lockdowns were more harmful to children than the coronavirus.
“The evidence on children getting sick from COVID is pretty much non-existent but the evidence on harm we are doing through school closures is super-evident,” he said.
Mr Berryman also said he would contest the interim suspension and that the school’s operations would not be disrupted.
“It’s just another piece of paper I’ll have to work through,” he said. “It’s not the be-all and end-all if I can’t give a maths class.”
Victorian Education Minister James Merlino called Mr Berryman’s conduct “irresponsible” in the days after a COVID-19 cluster broke out at the school.
Mr Berryman wrote to families at least twice during periods of remote learning this year and invited them to send their children to school, arguing the damage to children’s mental health was potentially severe, while the health risks to minors from catching coronavirus were negligible.
“I cannot in good conscience continue to request that you continue to keep your children at home,” he wrote in one email in June.
“Please feel free to send your child to school if you feel that this is best for them or best for your family balance. I do not write this lightly, as this does breach government imposed directives for schools.”
More than 60 students, family and staff tested positive at the Fitzroy Community School.Credit:Eddie Jim
On Wednesday, Mr Berryman insisted that he did follow the rules restricting on-site attendance to vulnerable children and children of permitted workers during the lockdown that began on August 5.
“Every school is going to get a cluster; you just can’t avoid it,” he said.
More than 60 students were allowed on-site at the small school of about 120 students on some days, before it became one of the largest COVID-19 exposure sites in the latest Delta outbreak.
Mr Berryman said on Wednesday that three students were unwell for a few days but most were asymptomatic or experienced very mild symptoms. A few adults were sicker, he said.
“There was a school mum who was unwell in bed for a few days and a partner of one of the teachers was unwell,” he said.
There are more than 14,000 active cases of COVID-19 in Victoria, including more than 1500 children under 10, and the state recorded 11 deaths on Wednesday, the highest figure so far this year.
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