Calderdale Council is advising local schools not to open more widely until they can be confident that children and teaching staff are able to return to classrooms safely.
All schools and Calderdale College are currently closed except to vulnerable children and the children of key workers. The Government has now asked schools to plan for the return of more children from Monday 1 June 2020. To ensure that this can be done safely, the Government has set five key tests which must guide any decision to re-open:
Cllr Tim Swift, Leader of Calderdale Council, said
“At our Cabinet meeting on Monday 16 March 2020, I announced a 10-point plan which details how the Council is responding to the risks related to COVID-19.
“The first point of our plan sets out our commitment ‘to deliver the Council’s statutory health responsibilities, to do all that we can within our resources, and within our ability, to protect the health and wellbeing of our population in Calderdale’.
“Education plays a crucial role in making sure children have a good start in life, laying the foundations so that they are able to enjoy a long, healthy and fulfilling future.
“However the Council has major concerns that the Government’s tests are not currently being met within Calderdale, and for this reason we are advising our schools against opening more widely on 1 June.”
Initially the Government is recommending the return of nursery, reception, Year 1 and Year 6 children to primary schools and Year 10 and Year 12 students to their school or college.
The Council’s Director of Public Health, Deborah Harkins said:
“We know how important it is for children to attend school but our priority at the moment must be to do all we can to prevent the spread of the virus. More children should only return to school when we are confident that it is safe, we should not put them, their families and our communities at risk.
“The current evidence within Calderdale indicates three of the Government’s five tests are not met and unfortunately we are not assured that this will change before 1 June. This means that we cannot advise our local schools that it will be safe to re-open yet.
“Test three requires us to be confident that the rate of infection is decreasing to manageable levels, but we do not currently know the impact of the changes to the lockdown restrictions announced last week.
“The fourth test is about whether we have enough testing capacity, however the full test, trace and contain programme is not yet fully in place to help manage any local outbreaks of infection.
“Finally test five is about whether we can be confident that any changes we make will not risk a second peak of infections. Unfortunately at this stage we cannot be confident that we could prevent the spread of the coronavirus within our nurseries, schools or colleges and then into the wider community.”
New measures such as smaller class sizes, increased hand washing and social distancing will be essential, however this is very challenging for those schools in Calderdale based in smaller Victorian buildings which do not have large open plan classrooms and flexible spaces.
Young children are likely to struggle to maintain social distancing, increasing the risk of the spread of further infection.
Calderdale Council’s Cabinet Member for Children and Young People’s Services, Cllr Adam Wilkinson, said:
“This has been an incredibly difficult time for children and their parents and carers and I’d like to thank them and our teachers for all that they are doing to make sure that our children and young people are able to continue to learn from home.
“The safety of our staff and pupils is of paramount importance, however, and schools should only open for more children if it is safe to do so. We’re also aware that each school is different and there’s no ‘one size fits all’ approach to a safe re-opening.
“We have carefully considered this issue in light of public health and health and safety advice, and the Government guidance and information from the DfE Lead Scientific Advisor and in view of this we believe that further opening of our schools on 1 June would be premature.
“We are in constant contact with the head teachers and staff of our primary schools, secondary schools, nurseries and colleges. We’ve prepared a template risk assessment and a checklist for our schools and staff which covers every part of the latest government guidance with regard to health and safety. And the Council’s Health and Safety team is supporting schools to undertake this process and will provide tailored advice as required.
“I know that many young people will want to see their friends again and resume learning, however for now our priority must be to make sure we keep ourselves and each other safe, by staying at home whenever possible.”
The Council urges everyone in Calderdale to stay at home whenever possible. This is the single most important thing you can do to protect the NHS and care homes and save lives. If you do need to leave home you should follow the Government guidance on Staying safe outside your home.
As well as social distancing, you can reduce the risk of catching and passing on COVID-19 by washing your hands with soap and water often, for at least 20 seconds, avoid touching your face and follow the ‘catch it, bin it, kill it’ guidance.