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Safety first, council insists as schools reopening opposed by mayor

PUBLISHED: 12:00 21 May 2020

Schools are closed due to the coronavirus pandemic. Picture: Tim Goode/PA

Schools are closed due to the coronavirus pandemic. Picture: Tim Goode/PA

PA Wire/PA Images

Newham has joined councils across the UK issuing a warning over the reopening of schools.

Mayor of Newham, Rokhsana Fiaz. Picture: R. FiazMayor of Newham, Rokhsana Fiaz. Picture: R. Fiaz

Mayor Rokhsana Fiaz outlined in a letter to people in the borough how she shared their worry about the government’s plans to send youngsters back to school on June 1.

Ms Fiaz wrote: “Many parents, teachers and schools are worried about the government’s proposals to open schools for certain year groups on the 1st June. I am worried too.

“That’s why I believe our schools should only open for more pupils when it is safe to do so for our children, staff and community.”

She added that it was “increasingly clear” the reopenings would not happen on June 1 because the government’s five tests to determine the easing of lockdown measures had not all been met.

Education secretary Gavin Williamson in Downing Street following a cabinet meeting ahead of the Budget. Photograph: Victoria Jones/PA.Education secretary Gavin Williamson in Downing Street following a cabinet meeting ahead of the Budget. Photograph: Victoria Jones/PA.

Those tests are making sure the NHS can cope; sustained falls in the daily death rate; the rate of infection decreasing; protective kit and tests supply meeting future demand and avoiding a second peak.

However, Ms Fiaz insisted that the tests had to be met at a local level too.

She described prime minister Boris Johnson’s announcement that a test, track and trace system would be working by June 1 as a “big if”.

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And she described her concern about “high risks” among Newham’s black, Asian and minority ethnic communities.

“Our borough has many families living in multi-generational households, where young and elderly residents live together in enriching home environments.

“But many of these families may be living in homes that don’t allow for social distancing, so there are risks of Covid-19 infection to elderly members of a household where a young family member is coming home from school, potentially with the virus,” the mayor said.

Newham has announced it will not take action against parents who decide not to send their child or children to school if they open.

The borough joins more than 30 mostly Labour led councils opposed to the reopening.

The government was aiming to get Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 pupils back into school in smaller class sizes.

Plans also included seeing Year 10 and Year 12 students return.

Education secretary Gavin Williamson said on May 16: “The longer that schools are closed, the more children miss out. Teachers know this.

“The poorest children, the most disadvantaged children, the children who do not always have support they need at home, will be the ones who will fall furthest behind if we keep school gates closed.”

He added the plans were based on the best scientific advice with children at the heart of the government’s actions.


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