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16 March, 2020
COVID19 Special Edition 
General advice for parents


We know good information is important to parents so last week we asked the Education Directorate to answer the big questions from parents and the parent associations that we represent. The result is this FAQ  that all parents should have received from their school yesterday (Monday 16th). It covers school-specific COVID information, what schools are doing and have planned, what will happen if there is a case at your school, advice on cancelled events and more.

If parents have specific concerns about their child's situation, they should speak directly to their school.

As always, anyone who is unwell should not go to school.

Will schools close?

If a student or staff member were to test positive to the virus, the impacted school may close for a short period while ACT Health investigates the incident. (Those students and staff identified as close contacts of a case will need to self-quarantine at home for 14 days. Parents will be notified by their school if it is to close via their normal communication channels which include email and SMS.)

Council also considers that while there is no current notice of more broad or longer-lasting school closures in the ACT, this is possible given the experience of other countries. Families - and P&Cs (keep reading!) - should plan for this. 

Other good information sources 

Parents are advised to check the ACT Health website for the most up to date information as advice is changing rapidly.

There is also this excellent information from GPs for schools
Impacts for Parent Associations

It is likely all P&Cs will be impacted in some way by the COVID19 Health Emergency.
Below we consider major points and impacts, regulations, and suggestions of how your P&C could handle the situation. Please continue to call (6241 5759) or email us with your questions if they are not covered below.

Note that while we have done our upmost to provide sound advice, our suggestions below cannot constitute legal advice.

Do we have your new committee details? 

Very few of our P&Cs have currently updated their member details via our Office Bearers' form. To receive important committee information, this is essential. Please check among your committee, or with us, that you have completed this form. If you are an outgoing committee member, please pass this on to new committee members. 

Decision making in uncertain times 

OK, so this is really tough - you signed up for the P&C and now you are making complex decisions in uncertain times. It is up to you - your executive committee - as an independent incorporated association, to make decisions for your organisation and members. So, what can make this easier? Well, we've googled it (and brainstormed a bit) and here are some tips.
  • Go back to your goals and values. That meeting/event you are cancelling, what was it really about? What was the aim? Is there another way to fulfill the same aim? Another way to raise funds for the playground now your fete is cancelled? Another way to build community in the absence of your community picnic (could you pair up families to look out for each other in a crisis, keep up community spirit online or reach out to elderly needing food drops)? Another way to approve the budget without having a P&C meeting? (See below about meetings.)
  • Uncertain times are a great time to innovate, but do minimise the risks you take.
  • Be prepared. Think through scenarios ahead of time get as much information as you can on critical points so that knowledge is there when you need it. Note our advice below about financial planning.
  • Learn as much as possible about options (keep reading and contact us if you need to). This will help you feel less anxious.
  • Don't think too far ahead - reduce the time frame decisions. As one business website put it "Build a bridge to the future by taking smaller steps." That event in June may not go ahead, but you don't have decide yet (see also 'how far ahead shall we cancel' below).
  • Determine the worst case scenario. It may seem scary, but understanding the worst is survivable can ease fear.
  • Don't expect perfection - go with the best combined judgement of your executive committee at the time and don't beat yourself up with hindsight.
  • As always, P&Cs work best when they work with the school and this is really important now. Work closely with your principal and the advice they are getting from the government. It's important they are comfortable with your plans too.
  • Remind your community how to get in touch with your during social distancing or closure.
You may also find this article helpful.

Cancellation of P&C events

The Directorate has cancelled events, including:
  • all non-essential mass gatherings attended by more than 500 people must be cancelled from Monday 16 March until further notice
  • parent teacher nights and school assemblies are cancelled in ACT public schools.
In line with these requirements, Council understands that events of a similar scale can no longer be held on school grounds. This will include most P&C run-events, such as discos, fetes, fairs and market days, trivia nights, community picnics and also P&C meetings. (See below for lots of advice around meetings). If you are cancelling an event, be sure to tell everyone through the same mechanisms you used to advertise the event.  If it is a school event, provide some signage for people who might not have heard and turn up anyway.

As advised by Council to all parent association presidents by email on Friday (March 13) losses due to cancellation of these events are, unfortunately, not covered by the standard P&C insurance and the broker has confirmed that no P&C has the additional 'communicable diseases' cover. 

How far ahead shall we cancel?

It will be up to each individual P&C to make the call about cancelling events. At present there is no way of knowing when the ban on events will be lifted. We suggest a useful approach will be to take it on a month by month basis. For large events, three weeks ahead of the scheduled date is a good time frame to cancel, with time to tell everyone, and reasonable distance to see the trend on the spread of COVID19.

If you need certainty, err on the side of caution and cancel or postpone events.

Financial impacts

Some P&Cs, especially those employing staff or who have made outlays on large events, could be financially affected. Council suggests all parent associations look carefully at their financial position and budget, to understand the impact of possible event cancellation and/or school closures. It would be a good idea to calculate the financial impact on your P&C under a range of scenarios so that you can be prepared, and understand what your association can bear. For example, you could consider a school closure of 1 week, 2 weeks, 6 weeks and any wages impacts; or, the inability to hold events this term, versus for 2 terms and impacts on fundraising needed to cover essential expenditure.

Make sure you know what costs your association will be able to bear given your current financial resources.

Can your P&C afford?

If, after examining your financial position and various scenarios, you are worried about your finances or that your P&C could run out of funds to meet your obligations, please contact us to discuss. Your P&C may need to consider alternative ways to raise funds or cost-saving measures. 

At our next Executive Meeting, Council will discuss possible changes to affiliation fees or other ways which Council may be able to assist our members experiencing additional financial pressures.

If you employ staff

In planning for possible school closures, look carefully at staff contracts and your financial situation. Examine contracts in detail, as well as a range of possible closure scenarios, as suggested above. If employees are on casual basis, you are not obliged to pay staff during closure of the canteen or other service. Your committee may, however, choose to offer some payment to employees in the event of a shut down.

We are aware that some P&Cs employees have converted to permanent part time arrangements. In these cases, staff are entitled to continued pay in the event of a shut down. However, your committee can request employees to voluntarily take leave without pay. Depending on your P&C's financial position, you may have to lay off staff.

We appreciate that P&C staff are an important part of the school community. Contact us if you wish to discuss this difficult situation. 

Canteens - food handling and hygiene  

At this time, all Canteen staff and volunteers need to pay particular attention to food safety and hygiene practices. Canteen co-coordinators and Managers could consider the following:
  • increase the number of hand-washing reminders for canteen volunteers
  • now might not be the best time for new volunteers if they are inexperienced with commerical food handling
  • increase the frequency with which you sanitise the canteen space, for example, sanitise the external canteen counter between the recess and lunch services
  • consider not offering a counter service at the moment, only lunch orders, as counter service is not only higher risk in terms of food and money handling, but also students are likely to queue at the counter in close proximity. You could also work with school staff to reduce crowding at the counter by letting students through gradually 
  • if your canteen uses student volunteers, consider suspending this practice as students generally have poorer hygiene practices

P&C meetings

Most schools will now not allow parent association meetings to continue on site and most authorities are recommending all non-essential meetings are cancelled or postponed. However, your constitution will require a certain number of meetings to be held each term. Check  your Constitution carefully (check both committee meetings and general meetings - some constitutions specify two sets of numbers). We have sought advice from Access Canberra on waiving the meeting requirements for incorporated associations until after the COVID19 crisis ends. We have not yet heard back but will update all members when we know more. Alternatively, virtual meetings are a possibility - see below.

If you are cancelling a meeting, be sure to tell everyone through the same mechanisms you used to advise about the meeting and check any constitutional requirements for cancelling. If the meeting was to be held at school, put up some signs for people who might not have heard it was cancelled.

If you haven't already held your AGM...

The ACT Incorporations Act requires associations such as P&Cs to hold your AGM within 5 months of the end of your financial year. As most P&Cs account in a calendar year, you can hold off conducting the AGM until the end of May. Current officers must continue in their positions until the AGM. If this is not possible, we have developed advice on a process for ratifying AGM business over email or teleconference which you can use.

In case COVID19 restrictions continue past May, we are seeking advice from Access Canberra on waiving the meeting requirements for incorporated associations until after the COVID 19 crisis ends. We'll report back. 

Virtual meetings

A possible way to meet your constitutional requirements for meetings is virtual or online meetings, but take note of the following.
  • check your constitution does not exclude online meetings contact us if you are uncertain about interpreting the wording of your constitution
  • make sure that you comply with the notice requirements for the meeting. This is especially important when changing from an in-person meeting to an online meeting (usually 14 days prior to a general meeting)
  • if you can not give the minimum notice, you will need to reschedule your meeting to provide your members and any interested citizens the opportunity to attend with the required notice period 
  • remember to advise how people can participate (do they need to email for a code?)
  • AGMs have additional requirements - see above. 

Zoom meetings

A tool for video conferencing that has been highly recommended to us by many users is Zoom video conferencing. It’s easy-to-use, free and you can schedule a meeting, join a meeting, or host a meeting on your laptop, personal computer, tablet or phone. The free plan provides for a maximum of 40 minute meetings (which could be enough to transact your urgent business) and participants do not require a Zoom account in order to join in. You can share files securely and further options include Video Breakout Rooms allowing you to split your Zoom meeting into separate sessions for discussion and projects. For longer meetings, Council is investigating providing a full service subscription which we can make available to all our member parent associations (that's you!) free of charge. We will update everyone when details are finalised.

Share your ideas!

At Council, we know we don't have all the answers and that 400 heads are better than 1. So if your P&C has any ideas and advice on handling the impacts of COVID19, please let us know and we can share! 
Council meetings and services

Member services

Our office will continue to be open for the foreseeable future, but with reduced staff to reduce contacts. We will continue to answer your phone (6241 5759) and email enquiries. We will also continue to provide timely updates and useful information for members on our Facebook page and through this newsletter and our other usual information sources. And our extensive online resources will answer many of your more usual P&C questions.

Very few of our P&Cs have currently updated their member details via our Office Bearers' form. For us to provide important information to this year's committee, this is essential. Please check among your committee, or with us, that we have received your updated information. 

Council training to help you run your P&C

Our Grant Writing workshop, scheduled for April 7, has been postponed, with a new date to be advised. You can still find out more about this fabulous workshop and register your interest.

We are still taking registrations for our other free workshops to help you run your P&C well. They come highly recommended by previous participants from P&Cs across Canberra so register your interest to come along and answer all your P&C-related questions... and some you've not yet asked!. They are currently scheduled for May and June but 🤷‍♀️.
  • Effective P&C Workshop: the perfect workshop for all office bearers to find out more about running your parent association well. From 'what is our P&C all about' to attracting volunteers; from promoting what you do to running meetings well; the session is a chance to hear from P&C veterans and meet others in the same position as yourself. Sign up here.
    Thursday 7 May, 6:30-9:00pm, repeated Tuesday 19 May (6:30-9:00pm) in Stirling. 
  • Treasurer and Insurance Workshop: find out how to do the job of treasurer successfully and as easily as possible, plus to find out more about the insurance package Council coordinates for our members. Sign up here
    Thursday 28 May,  7-9:30pm in Stirling.
  • Constitution Workshop: if your constitution is out of date, this hands-on workshop is for you. Bring your own constitution and we'll go through the content and wording required, plus how to pass an amended document at your association.
    Thursday 30 June,  7-9:30pm in Stirling. Sign up here

Council meetings

Council's March General Meeting has been cancelled.

This meeting was planned to include an update from Ross Hawkins(Education Directorate) on work to reduce and better respond to violence in schools. We have asked the Directorate to provide the information which Ross was going to present in different format so that we can share it with members. Watch this space!

We will advise about whether future Council meetings will go ahead at least weeks in advance of the meeting date. 
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Copyright © 2020 ACT Council of Parents & Citizens Associations. All rights reserved.
Comment authorised by Terry L Sanders for the ACT Council of Parents & Citizens Associations

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