Will Lancashire parents be fined if they keep their kids off school over Covid concerns?
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It comes after the leader of the Labour opposition group on the authority called on the cabinet member for schools to resign for failing to take a position on the issue.
County Hall said on Sunday afternoon that, following advice from its public health experts, it would not be issuing a blanket closure notice – because infections in the area had not reached levels seen in the South East, where a new variant of coronavirus is spreading rapidly.
However, Conservative cabinet member Phillippa Williamson said it was ultimately for individual schools to make the decision, because they “know their circumstances best”.
Labour’s Azhar Ali accused her of an “abdication of responsibility” – and said the very least parents deserved was confirmation that they would not be fined if they chose to keep their children at home when their school had opted to open.
“This is a total fudge – what’s the point of Lancashire County Council and what’s the point of County Cllr Williamson as the cabinet member when she can’t even say to parents that they will not be fined if they do not send their children in because of health and safety worries?
“The school decides on fines, but the county council has to administer them – and they should be saying that they will not be doing that for an indefinite period until we have dealt with coronavirus.
“It’s just absolutely chaotic and she is the one who is in charge of our schools – yet schools and parents are given a message mid-afternoon on a Sunday, when there is no time to plan,” County Cllr Ali said.
More than a dozen primaries in Central Lancashire and the Fylde coast remained closed on Monday for face-to-face teaching for most pupils – variously citing staff absence and safety concerns.
County Cllr Williamson said that it was right for them to be allowed to reach that decision themselves – and urged caution over the use of fines by schools which did choose to open.
“The role of the local authority is one of facilitation and support for schools – providing leadership and guidance without undermining their ultimate position of being in charge of that school.
“In normal times we would support the use of fines as a deterrent, because every child is entitled to an education – but these are not normal times. Therefore, we are advising schools to apply both common sense and compassion in their consideration of individual cases where children are not in school before issuing fines.”
“We met on Sunday about the rates in Lancashire and the clear advice from the director of public health was that the figures are significantly lower than in some parts of the country – and every day in school is an important one. We issued the message when we did, so people knew the position.
“We understand that many parents are concerned about sending their children to school, but I want to stress again that our schools have been doing a phenomenal job to ensure they are safe and Covid-secure,” County Cllr Williamson added.
She said that it should be clearer on Tuesday how many Lancashire primary schools are intending to remain closed for the first two weeks of the new term – as advocated by the National Education Union – because many of them had pre-planned inset days on Monday when they would be closed anyway.