These are some of the personal stories we sent as evidence to the APPG Coronavirus on 28/1/2021. We will publish them one by one on this blog over the coming days. Other groups sent more, including both parents and young people.
1 – Mother from Southampton
As a cautious family with many underlying health conditions we have taken the threat of Covid19 very seriously from the outset. I am registered carer to my type 1 diabetic sister. My husband has COPD and I suffer with CFS and fibromyalgia. After careful reflection, and on the government promise of access to testing for anyone who needs it and with promises of schools operating only with the R rate below 1, we decided to let our children return to the classroom. Social distancing was not adhered to on collection/drop off and entirely impossible within the school building for staff and students alike.
After 4 days in attendance my children began showing symptoms, cough/congestion, warm to touch. We began to try for a test. It took 11days to secure one. By which time my husband and I were showing symptoms. Thankfully negative. Clearly mitigations in school were not adequate. We were fully shielding in the preceding months. The virus we caught could only have come from school.
Secondly, testing was clearly not accessible. We deemed school unsafe.
We set about educating our children at home. The school was not permitted to support us in this endeavour by local authority and government guidance. We communicated our vulnerabilities and concerns clearly. We evidenced all the work our children completed, we followed a school day at home and found resources online.
We were fined for non-attendance on the 22 October. Money we simply didn’t have, the fines also made clear that non-payment would result in court proceedings and possible prison sentence of 28 days. Threats designed for those who take unauthorised holiday in term times are not fitting during a global health crisis for clinically vulnerable families.
By this time the R rate had risen above 1. School remained open.
The toll on us was unbearable, already highly stressed by the impacts of the pandemic, finances and remote education. For my children 4+7 it was a confusing time. They questioned the disparity between methods used to protect ourselves in public places (masks/distancing) that were not in use in the school setting. The school did suffer multiple cases of Covid infection in the weeks that followed in what would have been my eldest child’s ‘bubble’ a term that described at the time a year group of 90, then a class of 30 and finally children sat within a meter of one another.
With support of other parents and legal advice we refused to pay fines, the process moved to a legal attendance panel. In January after the DfE u-turn on school reopening I received a call from our Head. The fines had been withdrawn and my children’s attendance amended retrospectively to 100% code X (Covid related authorised related absence) in the register. My Head had been unaware of these powers. Government guidance available to them was unclear. They deeply regretted their actions.
We endured compounded stress and misery for months. Educated our children without support or experience. It was wholely disproportionate to our ‘crime’ and previous excellent attendance. Will we send our cherished children back to the unchanged environment that is school? Short answer is no. Mitigations are not good enough, distance is not possible, household mixing is unavoidable, aerosol transmission needs urgent review it is the primary way in which this virus spreads and a window cracked open will not suffice. Children catch Covid. Children transmit Covid. The rate at which they spread is inconsequential when children are packed into classrooms together.
They require masks (every parent I’ve asked says their primary age children can and do wear them). Blended learning to reduce class sizes or more space. And most importantly parents should be able to risk assess for themselves and their families, in person attendance should not be mandatory or enforced with threats and punishment.