Easington MP Grahame Morris has welcomed Durham County Council’s announcement that County Durham schools will only reopen when Headteachers feel it is safe to do so.
Durham County Council has confirmed that parents and carers who decide not to send their children back during the government’s proposed phased return will not be penalised.
Mr Morris has recently warned the target to reopen schools on 1 June would risk the safety of parents, students and teachers. Following the announcement by Durham County Council, he said:
“I welcome the pragmatic approach of Durham County Council and the assurance to parents and carers that they will not be penalised should they keep their children out of school.
We all want the wider reopening of schools, that have safeguarded the children of key workers through this pandemic. However, there are genuine concerns about how social distancing will be maintained as we increase the number of students in school.
I feared the government’s rush to reopen schools on the 1 June would compromise safety. I believe a more considered and thoughtful plan could be developed in time for the new academic year.
The UK has had almost 55,000 excess deaths during the Covid-19 outbreak, according to the Office of National Statistics, and we must be cautious to ensure that schools do not become the epicentre for a second spike in the virus.
I hope the decision by Durham County Council gives parents and schools the assurance that they can make decisions in the best interests of their children, without the government imposing unrealistic expectations”.
Durham County Council Press Release
Council works with schools towards a phased reopening
Schools in County Durham are being advised that they should only start a phased reopening when they feel it is safe to do so, following the government’s announcement on the phased return.
Durham County Council has been working with schools and has provided comprehensive guidance on risk assessment, acknowledging that the circumstances for each school are different.
Commenting on the phased return, Cllr Olwyn Gunn, Cabinet member for children and young people’s services, said: “The Government’s announcement on a phased return to school is both controversial and complex, but the safety of children and staff is paramount.
“Since the Government’ lockdown’, schools have remained open for some pupils. During that time we have been supporting them and will continue to support them through this next challenge.
“There is no simple answer to the phased reopening and I’m acutely aware that there is a nervousness about returning too early. This is completely understandable and whilst it will be great for all children to return to school, parents, carers and staff need reassurance regarding safety.
“Durham County Council has provided extensive guidance to schools around a phased reopening and decisions on the timing of it and the number of pupils returning will be based on an individual, rigorous risk assessment for each school.
“In line with national guidance, parents and carers can be assured that they will not be penalised if they make the decision not to send their children back to school whilst we are in the process of the government’s proposed phased return. Parents and carers can make the choice they feel is right for their children and should not be pressured into a decision they are uncomfortable with.”
Cllr Gunn also praised school staff. She added: “Schools have never closed. Staff have been there for vulnerable children and those of key workers ever since the lockdown. They have shown remarkable resilience, care and selflessness. I want to share my thanks and gratitude to all staff who have been working to keep schools open, providing homework and support to parents and carers and, in some cases, delivering food and activities to family homes. Not only have they stepped up to take on these challenges they have gone above and beyond what has been asked of them.”