Internal division as Herts County Council urges parents to “support” summer school return

PUBLISHED: 10:08 19 May 2020 | UPDATED: 10:09 19 May 2020

Hertfordshire's councillors and residents are split over government plans to re-open schools in the summer. Picture: Getty Images/Purestock

Hertfordshire's councillors and residents are split over government plans to re-open schools in the summer. Picture: Getty Images/Purestock

Archant

Parents and carers are being asked by the county council to support the potential phased re–opening of schools in June, despite some residents and councillors raising concerns about children and teachers’ safety.

Most schools across Hertfordshire have remained open for vulnerable pupils or key workers’ children during this pandemic.

But, last week the Government made clear that plans to re–open some schools, potentially as early as June 1, are being prepared should the rate of coronavirus transmissions continue to fall.

Schools will be in touch with parents in the coming weeks about arrangements for their own children, and the overall plan to phase their pupils back into education.

Commenting on the potential return, Cllr Terry Douris, HCC’s cabinet member for education, libraries and localism, said: “I would like to stress that a huge amount of effort and great work has been demonstrated by our teachers, support staff, parents and children over the recent weeks and months. I would also add my thanks to all the education staff working for and with the county council.

“Now it is time for us to pay back all that hard work by supporting each of our schools. I ask parents and carers to partner with your child’s school to support the phased return, adhering to the measures they arrange to keep everyone safe.

“Your child’s teacher would not for a second want to put a child or themselves at risk, so you can rest assured the systems and procedures they agree to put in place will be as safe as possible.

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“Please continue to support your local communities, as we are all this together.”

But, not everyone in the county council is supporting this message. Cllr Judi Billing, leader of the Labour group, penned an open letter to Cllr Douris and raised “concerns” about the possibility of re–opening schools in June.

In the letter, Cllr Billing criticised the government’s “confusing” advice on school openings and the “impossible demands” placed on headteachers which prevent flexible approaches.

She also said: “I am asking you, as a matter of absolute urgency to make clear that Hertfordshire will allow schools and parents to make the best possible local decision for their circumstances and that no pressure will be put on schools to conform to government edicts.”

Almost 1,000 people responded to our online poll, where we asked for your thoughts on when kids should go back to school.

The majority of respondents indicated they want to see their children return to school full–time in September.

Many of your comments wanted assurance that it would be a safe return for everyone, from pupils and teachers to cleaners and parents. Some suggested we should wait until a vaccine is in place before schools should re–open fully, arguing that “kids should not be used as guinea pigs.”

A small minority argued that a June return, which has been put forward by Gavin Williamson, the Secretary of State for Education, would be their preference as “lockdown can’t continue forever, and a return to school will be best for children’s mental health.”


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