A community leader claims children are being used as ‘guinea pigs’ by being sent back to school during the pandemic.
Stone councillor Jill Hood spoke out just as primary schools prepare to reopen to whole year groups from Monday. The Government is advising them to prioritise nursery, reception, Year 1 and Year 6.
But Mrs Hood fears they are going back too soon as coronavirus infection rates are still a major concern.
Now she has written to both Staffordshire County Council and Stone MP Sir Bill Cash to urge them to support a rethink.
“I ask you to be the voice of our parents, carers and school staff to our Government, to say it is a huge mistake to ask our youngest children to return to school on June 1. There should be decisions made with regional differences taken into account and not one size fits all,” she said.
“I’m appealing to you to act on behalf of our children, the nation’s most precious resource, our future workers and parents. Please ask the Government to reconsider asking our children to return to school.
“There are only five weeks left to the end of the school year. Please do not use our children as guinea pigs.”
The letter adds: “Reception and Year 1 children – four and five-year-olds – are the least likely to be able to cope with ‘safe’ social distancing. Even though it has been suggested that there will be no more than 15 children per class, this will not stop natural behaviour of the children to huddle together, as it gives them a strong feeling of security.
“I fear that, when they are told they must not go close to their friends or teachers, either in the classroom or playground, that this will affect their emotional and mental health.
“Another serious concern raised from parents and teachers is for our children with special needs. These children rely on a regular routine, with familiar faces and surroundings, which from all accounts will not be able to be provided. For example, autistic children need a strict continuing routine, repeating the same pattern every day they’re in school.”
An added complication is that Stone follows the three-tier education system of first, middle and high schools. It means Year 4 going into Year 5 is a key transition point, rather than Year 6 going into Year 7.
But the Government is still recommending middle schools welcome back Year 6 pupils, even though no other year groups in these schools will be returning to classrooms at the start of June.
Some councils in England have spoken out against the plans to reopen schools so soon, fearing it will put teachers and pupils at risk of catching Covid-19.
But the county council is working with schools to allow them to reopen safely. Support being provided by the local authority includes packs of personal protective equipment, as well as advice and guidance on social distancing.
Councillor Philip White, cabinet member for learning and employability said: “Our schools have been doing a fantastic job throughout this pandemic.
“Most of them have remained open to support vulnerable children and the children of key workers, and teachers have also been working hard to provide the best education possible for children at home. We have been in regular contact to ensure they are kept up to date and have everything they need to operate safely.
“Schools know what is best for their staff and pupils, so it is up to each individual school to make the decision about when and how they can open. Our health and safety teams are helping them to make those decisions by giving advice on social distancing measures, and we are also providing every school with a pack of personal protective equipment should someone fall ill.
“Our understanding is that the majority of schools will be open in some way, and will be talking to their parents about what will be happening over the coming days. We will continue to support them as much as possible to open in a way that ensures the safety of both pupils and staff.”