Ahead-of-the-curve family out to flatten it

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Daniel and Sarah Gardiner with their two children William, 5, and Benjamin, 8.
Camera IconDaniel and Sarah Gardiner with their two children William, 5, and Benjamin, 8. Credit: Cally Dupe/Countryman, Cally Dupe Picture: Cally Dupe

A Moora farmer who pulled his children out of primary school three weeks ago says “anyone who can, should” do the same amid fears about the spread of COVID-19.

The coronavirus pandemic was yet to force widespread school shutdowns across WA this week, but masses of city and country-based families had withdrawn their children.

Many WA private schools have notified parents they would switch to online learning, though children of essential workers would still be supervised at school.

The massive absentee rate at public schools put the Government under increasing pressure to act, with a growing number of parents choosing to ignore advice that school was the safest place for their children.

Daniel and Sarah Gardiner first kept their two sons Ben, 8, and William, 5, home from St Joseph’s School in Moora on March 16, in a bid to “flatten the curve”.

It was a decision Mr Gardiner said raised a few eyebrows at the time, but has become more common in the past few weeks.

Both of the boys have asthma, and, ahead of their 70th birthdays, Mr Gardiner’s parents Colin and Robbie are in the most at-risk age bracket for developing severe illness.

But Mr Gardiner said the decision was as much about protecting other children and parents as it was about protecting his own sons.

“It is about the kids, but it is also about the broader community as well,” he said.

“Looking at what was happening overseas and where we might end up, made me think ‘I can’t rely on other people to do the right thing and stay home’.

“I also didn’t think we could do nothing while waiting for us to get to a point where the whole of society has been told to go home.”

“So I just thought let’s keep the kids home, that is a lever we can pull ourselves.”

Mr Gardiner said he had phoned the school and found there was “no overtly negative response” and “they completely understood”.

In the days that followed, he said a few people told him he was “overreacting” — prompting him to write a lengthy post on Twitter and Facebook.

In that post, Mr Gardiner explained why he was “not the crackpot” others thought he was and why social distancing worked.

“The example from other countries as to how to avoid this is crystal clear,” he wrote.

“We stop overseas travel, restrict domestic movements and have a big push on social distancing ... proper social distancing.

“As not, not just have the party outside so we can stand a bit further apart ... as in, cancelling the bloody party. You can boogie on after the pandemic.”

While children at public schools were able to go to school as normal this week, things will change dramatically next week when only parents who cannot make alternative arrangements are advised to still send their children. Teachers will only provide supervision, not structured learning.

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