Redbridge Council and MPs pledge support for parents’ opposition to schools reopening until safe

Almost 600 people joined a zoom call on Thursday, May 21 to address fears over re-opening Redbridge

Almost 600 people joined a zoom call on Thursday, May 21 to address fears over re-opening Redbridge schools until it's safe to do so. Picture: Roy Chacko - Credit: Archant

Almost 600 anxious parents, teachers, school staff and politicians held a Zoom meeting to discuss whether it’s safe to send children back to Redbridge schools on June 1.

Schools are due to reopen on June 1 for some pupils. Picture: Tim Goode/PA

Schools are due to reopen on June 1 for some pupils. Picture: Tim Goode/PA - Credit: PA

Leader of the council Jas Athwal and Cllr Elaine Norman, cabinet member for children and young people, both forcefully reiterated their position on the Zoom call on Thursday, May 21 that they don’t support re-opening schools until it’s safe.

The decision whether to re-open a school is up to the individual headteacher but the councillors said that no parent will be penalised for deciding to not send their child in. Nor will any teachers face repercussions for not returning.

Cllr Athwal said: “If a school does decide it’s not safe to open, then we will stand by that school.”

Politically there was a unified front with Labour MPs Wes Streeting and Sam Tarry supporting the council for its strong stance on the issue.

A number of parents and education union representatives said schools should not reopen until the five steps they laid out were met.

The five tests call for lower cases of Covid-19 with a clear downward trend, a national plan for social distancing, comprehensive access to regular testing, protocols to test a whole school when a case occurs and protection for the vulnerable.

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Habiba Ali said parents like herself have felt they haven’t been part of the conversation so far.

She said: “A primal instinct in parents is you don’t want to put your child in harm’s way.

“Currently parents feel this dread and this limbo about deciding what to do.”

Plans are being made to reopen England’s schools from June 1, on the grounds young children are less likely to become seriously ill from the virus.

It is understood that nursery, pre-school, reception, Year 1 and Year 6 students would return first, as well as Years 10 and 12.

Cllr Norman said the June 1 date set out by the government is an arbitrary one that isn’t taking seriously the safety concerns surrounding it.

She said: “The safety of children, school staff and parents has to be paramount.

“There’s a lot of unanswered questions about the risk to poorer communities and the emerging evidence about the racial disparities of the epidemic and what it means for schools with diverse populations.”

Parent Caroline Killick said the idea of social distancing with very young children “is basically a no go.

“If they can’t do that, it’s not safe is it?”

She also brought up anxieties parents have surrounding the “hyper-inflammatory” syndrome, similar to Kawasaki disease, which is believed to have affected at least 40 children in London.

Cllr Athwal said some schools in the borough have more modern facilities and might be in a better position to open up safely but for others it would be difficult.

One parent asked what will be done about children loitering outside the school and Cllr Athwal said schools that decide to open will do so with staggered opening times.

He said he would ensure officers will be out to prevent children and parents from congregating in groups outside.

He added: “I do believe that schools should open at some time, but when all concerned are happy with the safety.

We will carry on working with the headteachers making sure that if schools do open that they don’t open with the numbers perhaps we expect.

If I feel a school is not fit to open, then I will call that out and I will make sure we make that decision sometime next week.”

He said the council was taking into consideration the risk assessment put forward by the unions and are conducting their own and would combine them to ensure they pass their internal tests.

Schools that do open will go through a deep clean process at the end of every day.