Three mothers are considering suing the Government over school closures – amid claims they may have breached children’s human rights and pupil’s are being ‘treated like they’re germs’.
The women have also written to the Secretary of State Gavin Williamson to ask whether the ‘long term physical and mental welfare’ of pupils has been considered, and to raise concerns about social distancing.
Campaigner Christine Brett, who has two children, said: ‘These are healthy children who have been quarantined for 12 weeks – they shouldn’t be treated like they’re germs, disinfected on entry and separated on to individual tables.’
‘Us and Them’ campaign group founders Molly Kingsley, 41, Liz Morris, 46, and Mrs Brett, 48, all from Cambridgeshire, have one child each returning to school and another still stuck at home.
They claim ‘overwhelming evidence’ that lockdown is having a devastating impact on children’s wellbeing may have been overlooked. They also fear draconian social distancing rules, planned for when schools return, could cause long-term mental damage to children.
Schools are set to return today for the first time since March 20 – after being closed down because of the coronavirus – but an estimated one million of the two million children eligible to return are expected to stay away from this morning and parents who shun open schools will not face any fines.
Ministers are trying to reassure parents it is safe. The majority of primaries are expected to open to reception, year 1 and year 6 from today, despite fierce opposition from the National Education Union. At the 11th hour, the union again attempted to scupper openings, claiming they should be delayed until June 15 to protect youngsters and teachers.
On another day in coronavirus news;
Britain is set for a 77F scorcher today as the lockdown is eased with the Government allowing groups of six to meet;
More than two million Britons ‘shielding’ from coronavirus will be able to go outside for a walk, despite warnings ‘nothing will ever be a 100 per cent safe’;
Teachers have shared their nerves as they prepare to welcome pupils back into the classroom for the first time in more than two months – but up to a million children may be kept at home amid fears from parents;
Ministers have been sent a list of 45 countries to prioritise for quarantine-free ‘air bridges’
Some councils, many of them Labour-run, have also blocked re-opening for now.
The three mothers launched the ‘Us for Them’ campaign on behalf of parents who say they were made to feel like pariahs by admitting they disagreed with children being kept at home because of Covid-19.
The wellbeing of children must be taken into account in the government’s decision-making, they say.
The scientific advisory group, known as Sage, said the risk of children catching the virus while back at school was ‘very, very small, but it is not zero’. It also found there was not a higher risk to teachers of being infected compared to other adults going back to work.
The mothers’ group, which was formed when they met online, is also arguing against extreme social distancing rules, such as toddlers being banned from playing with soft toys, which could be implemented when children return.
Such measures may contravene the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), which states the best interests of the child must be the primary consideration, they say.
Almost 2,000 parents and teachers who previously feared speaking out in support of a return have rallied behind the campaign.
Many parents are now too scared to admit they want to send their children back to school after unions opposed the reopening of classrooms next week, according to Mrs Kingsley.
The group has been ‘deluged’ with messages from parents, teachers, and even psychologists thanking them for their bravery in starting the campaign, she said.
The former lawyer, who has two daughters aged three and six, said: ‘We’ve had so many private messages of support – from parents who have felt unable to speak out on their school WhatsApp groups or Facebook groups for fear of a backlash.’
The lobbying group has written an open letter to the Education Secretary asking to know what investigations were done into the impact on children’s mental and physical welfare when guidance was drawn up.
They also ask why views of parents and experts on children’s welfare appear not to have been considered.
The letter adds: ‘We absolutely recognise the challenges for Government at this time but your policies cannot – morally or legally – subordinate the welfare of children to other interests.’
They have instructed a team of lawyers – including a leading human rights QC – to examine whether the government’s actions so far and the distancing proposals may have been unlawful.
Mrs Kingsley said: ‘If it transpires that the Government has failed to take into account the welfare of children, as a primary consideration, we are prepared to take legal action.’
Mrs Brett, a health economist, said: ‘The unions represent the best interests of the teachers, and that’s their job, but who’s representing the best interests of the children?
‘The risk of transmission between children is minimal, according to the experts, whereas the risk of the damage to their wellbeing is high.
‘Parents have very much been led and frightened by the risk of the virus. But this fear is stopping them from being rational about what this is going to look like for their children going back to school.
‘These are healthy children who have been quarantined for 12 weeks – they shouldn’t be treated like they’re germs, disinfected on entry and separated on to individual tables.
‘Most of us would see that as a punishment, but they haven’t done anything wrong. How is that going to make them feel?,’ she added.
Mrs Brett is also a children’s yoga teacher.
The mums regard the social distancing rules, planned for when schools and nurseries re-open, as draconian.
Mrs Brett said: ‘Children are social beings and it’s really worrying that instead of going back to a supportive environment where they can actually recover from what’s happened, they’re going to be further damaged.’
A Department for Education spokesperson said: ‘Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic our decisions have been based on the best scientific and medical advice, with the welfare of children and staff at the heart of all considerations.
‘We have placed significant emphasis on mental health and wellbeing in our planning framework for the wider opening of schools, and have provided advice for parents and carers on looking after children’s mental health during the outbreak.
‘We have also provided over £100 million to boost remote education, including providing devices to those children who need it most while working with partners to look at what additional measures may be required to ensure every child has the support they need to deal with the impact of coronavirus on their education.’