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Cambridgeshire parents refuse to send children back to school amid Covid-19 pandemic

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A group of parents say they will not send their children to class during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The parents, who met on the Boycott Return to Unsafe Schools Facebook forum, believe the risk of catching the coronavirus in school and spreading it to vulnerable family members is too high and they are now teaching their children at home.

About 50 schools reported Covid infections across Cambridgeshire in the week starting November 2.

Hand sanitiser being used in a classroom (43114744)
Hand sanitiser being used in a classroom (43114744)

It has prompted union officials to call for a rota system, reducing the number of pupils in schools.

Catherina Scott-Hart, from Fordham, has kept her children Lewis, 10, and Amelie, 12, home from school since March because of health worries – and has no intention of sending them back while Covid numbers remain high.

The government rules warn parents that children must attend school even during the latest lockdown, even if children or their families were previously shielding, but Catherina is prepared to ignore the rules.

She said: “This is a very new virus that we don’t understand and both my husband and I have health issues.

“I have asthma and high blood pressure. My husband is overweight. These are all risks.

“Schools being open when we are supposed to be in a lockdown doesn’t make sense to me. I can’t have my mum over to sit in my garden but my daughter can potentially sit on a bus with 120 children and then go into school with a thousand others and sit in different classes of 30 kids all day.

“It is mind-boggling the government has kept schools open and it is obviously only for the economy so that people go back to work. But I think at least you should be able to have a choice.

“I’m very lucky in that I’m a stay-at-home mum. I think parents who can keep their children home should be allowed to without the risk of penalty and fines – I know not everyone could do this but it would free up school space for other children to be socially distanced.

“My kids have been at home since March. My son’s primary school said they would give us six week’s grace but they weren’t sending any work home, so we thought it wasn’t worth keeping him on the roll at the school and risking a fine.”

Catherina is now officially home schooling her son. Her daughter is still on her secondary school roll but Catherina believes she may not be allowed to stay home for much longer.

“We will carry on communicating with the school,” she said. “We are submitting work daily. If it comes to a fine, we will have to pay it. If it comes to a threat of court proceedings, that’s something else because it could affect my husband’s job.”

She said about 15,000 parents nationwide were part of the strike forum.

Meanwhile father-of-three Sam Mathieson, from Soham, is also keeping his children home as his wife is vulnerable and one of his children has asthma.

He explained: “We are taking part in the parent strike that is now gathering momentum on social media. The government has stated that children of extremely vulnerable people should still go to school, with no thought or additional guidance to safety, and are still threatening the deregistration of children.

“This is completely unacceptable. Hopefully through the parent strike action we can raise some momentum to get a change to the current schools’ mindset.

“I am not advocating schools close completely. There are vulnerable groups that need school but we should be exploring options to make class sizes smaller and safer.

Some parents are choosing to home-school their children (43114757)
Some parents are choosing to home-school their children (43114757)

“Schools should be open seven days a week. Rota systems should be in place. Masks should be warn at all times and in classrooms. The two-metre rule should be in force in classrooms. Bubble sizes should be reduced significantly and supplemented by online remote learning.

“This takes effort, finance and planning. The government haven’t done any. It is wholly unacceptable to simply offer additional testing. That doesn’t help anyone who catches the disease. The approach being taken by the government is just reckless.”

The parent group Boycott Return to Unsafe Schools group say there are the “largest parent-led, safer schools campaign in the UK” and is “pushing for a sensible, safe and sustainable approach to education during the pandemic”.

They are calling for:

  • Comprehensively funded and resourced remote learning;
  • Schools open only to vulnerable children and those of key workers;
  • Local authorities to publish a list of schools that have had confirmed cases each week; and
  • Risk assessments to be extended to entire households of children attending education setting.

The National Education Union is calling for schools and colleges to be included in the lockdown – and for rotas to be introduced at the end of the lockdown period.

The union says that schools should remain open to the children of key workers and vulnerable children.

Niamh Sweeney, representative for the NEU and teacher at Long Road (34350727)
Niamh Sweeney, representative for the NEU and teacher at Long Road (34350727)

Niamh Sweeney, a teacher at Long Road Sixth Form College in Cambridge and a National Education Union (NEU) representative, told the Cambridge Independent: “We are still in a low case area in Cambridge compared to the rest of the country, but the cases are still higher than they were in March, so it is inevitable it is going to happen unless the government includes schools in some kind of lockdown or rota system.

“There will be ad hoc school by school, bubble by bubble, year group by year group closures and that’s just not good enough.

“I can understand parents wanting to make decisions about their own situation. I can’t comment on the parent strike but I would hope schools would be sympathetic to parents and talk to them about what they can do to support them in that time.”

Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the NEU, added: “The latest figures from the ONS estimate that one per cent of primary pupils and two per cent of secondary pupils have the virus and that these levels have increased dramatically since wider opening in September.

This week, Cottenham Primary School was forced into an emergency closure amid rising Covid-19 cases in school and staff shortages.

Jon Lewis, Cambridgeshire and Peterborough’s director of education, said: “The safety of our children, their families and our school staff is, and always will be, our top priority. We are working with schools that have confirmed cases of Covid-19 around promoting good infection control advice and will continue to communicate with the parents and carers of those involved.

“The affected people and those that have been identified as close contacts are told to isolate, as per the existing process agreed by the local authority, Public Health England and our schools.

“Our school teams are committed to ensuring pupils follow the rules within school, and I urge parents and carers to do the same outside of school to help slow the spread of coronavirus.”

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