South-west Catholic schools will close their doors next month in a bid to reduce staff and student COVID-19 and influenza absences.
The "circuit breaker weekend," announced as late as last week at some south-west schools, leaves working parents scrambling to find care for their children.
The Diocese of Ballarat Catholic Education Limited (DOBCEL) wrote to families on June 24, informing them schools would close for two days in week five (August 12 and 15) or week six (August 19 and 22).
Participation isn't mandatory but most of the DOBCEL's 58 schools are expected to take up the circuit breaker. Schools can also apply for an alternate date if required.
Catholic Education Ballarat executive director Tom Sexton said Doherty Institute and FluTracking modelling indicated schools would continue to face high levels of illness, warning school communities of the possibility of peak influenza and COVID-19 infections in late winter.
He hopes the short break will reduce any "further pandemic and influenza disruptions" and lead to a "rested and fit workforce for the second half of the year".
It follows months of lockdowns and home learning in 2020 and 2021, when families were forced to educate their children remotely, missing weeks of face-to-face learning.
Despite the June 24 date, some south-west families only received the information last week. Schools have until the end of the week to notify DOBCEL if they intend to take the break.
Mr Sexton said as there was no scheduled long weekends in term three, schools were given the opportunity "to have a short respite" and "a planned opportunity to pause".
Schools will be completely closed without the option of on-site care for families who need it, unlike home learning when children of essential workers were allowed to attend school.
Mr Sexton said feedback had been "overwhelmingly positive" and the decision had been a "balancing act".
"We knew it would have an impact on families and would inconvenience families but we're trying to balance up if we didn't do this, would we end up with more kids and staff sick and more missed learning?"
He said having a four-day break could get staff and students "across the line" and limit future interruptions.
"We appreciate that there may be some concern about lost learning time ...but we know that healthy educational communities optimise learning by being deliberate about well-being and planning proactively."
Emmanuel College principal Peter Morgan said the college was governed by Mercy Education, not DOBCEL, and while it wasn't taking the circuit breaker, it would have a mid-term break at the same time.
He said families were advised of the break, which is used for professional development, at the start of the year.
"We have included the mid-term break in our calendar most years for the last ten years and find that it has a positive effect on staff and student health and well-being."
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