This afternoon, the Catholic Schools Office, on the advice of CSNSW and the Secretary of the State Department of Education, has introduced significant restrictions, effective Monday 16 March, in the conduct of schools. Our schools are to remain open for the time being but with very significant guidelines. The guidelines are detailed below in an email that has been sent to all Principals.
It is important that we be apprised of these guidelines and cooperate fully with them, especially in respect to our ministry at our schools. In accord with the guidelines, the celebration of whole of school Masses and liturgies must now be suspended.
There are clear implications in the guidelines for schools for the conduct of parish-based Sacramental Preparation programmes. I know a number of our parishes are currently conducting the preparation programme for First Reconciliation. It will be important for each Pastor to consider carefully if such programmes should be suspended, in consultation with the Sacramental Preparation Coordinator, the Principal and REC. The school guidelines will clearly raise questions from parents about this.
The Government today has made legally enforceable a prohibition against gatherings of people over 500. This does not affect our current capacity to offer Mass, and at this stage there should be no cancellation of parish Masses. Notice the Government is keeping open such places as cinemas and shops and utilities such as public transport. Should this change, the Bishops will need to offer us further advice. However, given that the Government has now publicly advised the need to consider ‘social distancing’ it will be for each Pastor to determine whether other parish community events should be suspended until further notice. It is critical to maintain a measured and thoughtful sense of what may be suspended in the life of the parish community. These decisions, however, are best made at a local level, parish by parish, rather than at a diocesan level at this stage.
In the meantime, in the celebration of all parish Masses and liturgies all the existing preventative measures against transmission of the virus should be stringently observed. People need to be advised that if they do not consider it to be in their best interests - or those of their families - to be present at a gathering in a confined space even if it be less than with 500 people, such as a church, they need to make a discernment not to be so. They may be offered the resource of praying at home and be provided those resources for making a spiritual communion. We need to respect their decision in this regard during this time of uncertainty.
The email that has been sent to Principals now follows:
After taking advice from Catholic Schools NSW and in light of recent public statements made by Mr Mark Scott, Secretary of the NSW Department of Education I wish to advise of the following steps which I am asking schools to implement as of tomorrow, Monday 16 March 2020.
• All across year level meetings and across year activities within your school should be cancelled. This includes whole school assemblies, cross-grade house group meetings, incursions, masses, liturgies and, where possible, common lunch and recess times.
• All interschool activities, which may include sporting events, debating and public speaking competitions should be cancelled.
• All school events which are held in the community, for example, visits to pre-schools, nursing homes, libraries or shopping centres should be cancelled.
• All excursions and camps should be cancelled.
• Attendance at all professional learning activities and conferences including those organised by the CSO or other professional bodies should not proceed.
To the extent that you are able, I would ask that you consider using online communication tools to minimise face to face contact.
Further information, advice and an opportunity to discuss these measures will be available at tomorrow's zoom meetings.
I thank you for your ongoing support and efforts in light of the current escalation of concern regarding COVID-19. I have not taken these decision lightly and understand that they will have implications for your staff, students and families.
I appreciate your patience and flexibility at this difficult and unpredictable time.
Dr Tony Bracken
Let us think through how best we can support the people entrusted to our care through what are certainly most remarkable and historic times.
With my appreciation,
Fr David Ranson