A large Christian school in Melbourne’s east has stayed open this week, disregarding the Andrews government’s decision to cut short term one to try to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Waverley Christian College, a devout Pentecostal school with almost 2000 students at campuses in Wantirna South and Narre Warren South, will continue with face-to-face classes until Friday, when term one was originally scheduled to end.

Waverley Christian College students leaving school on Wednesday afternoon.Credit:Luis Ascui

The decision is in keeping with the Morrison government’s directive that schools should stay open, but in opposition to the decisions of other government and non-government Victorian schools that have collectively shut their campus doors.

The union for non-government teachers in Victoria slammed the school’s decision as “deeply irresponsible”, arguing it undermined the statewide fight against the virus.

“Any Victorian school running classes as usual is putting the health and safety of students, staff and the wider community at unacceptable risk,” Debra James, general secretary of the Independent Education Union’s Victorian branch said.

The school is connected with the neighbouring City Life “mega-church” in Knox, which last week announced it would move its normally heaving church services online in response to government bans on indoor gatherings of more than 100 people.

Waverley Christian College will continue to operate until the end of term on Friday.Credit:Luis Ascui

Ms James said the school should also conform to the government's strategy on school closures.

“There is a strategy in place to manage the pandemic in Victoria and it is deeply irresponsible for any employer, particularly a school, to undermine this,” she said.

Emma Rowe, a senior lecturer in education at Deakin University, said it appeared the school was taking its cue from the Morrison government, which has encouraged schools to stay open, rather than conform to the Andrews government’s stance.

Several other independent schools in Victoria remain open this week, though students are learning remotely, and Dr Rowe said the variance in school closures between public and private schools was also an example of the inequity in Australia’s education system.

“I expect there will be uneasiness in the wider community over the school’s decision,” Dr Rowe said.

“Essentially, why should there be different rules for different schools? … I think it is reasonable for the community to expect all schools to adhere to the same rules.”

Dr Rowe said it suggested some schools saw themselves as “outside the government, even though they receive government funding”.

Waverley Christian College did not respond by deadline to questions about its decision to stay open.

Independent Schools Victoria chief executive Michelle Green said there had been no directive from health authorities for schools to shut down their normal operations.

Ms Green said that while the state government had directed government schools to close on Monday so they could plan for a transition to remote learning, the situation in independent schools varied.

“A significant number of independent schools had already moved to online learning last week, while more have done so this week,” she said.

“We understand a number of independent schools continue to operate all of their normal conventional classrooms this week, based on their own assessments of the needs of their students and staff, and their capacity to provide online learning.”

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