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A York primary school. Photo: Betty Longbottom

We cannot let our children be exposed to such risk for the sake of convenience, writes Corinne Pearson

Five days ago I started a petition with the aim of lobbying City of York Council into standing up to the government, as many other Northern Local Authorities have, by refusing to open schools on 1st June. A decision which would be consistent with the advice of the Independent Sage Committee, published on 22nd May.

The government has frequently tried to evoke a romanticised blitz spirit in this “war” against COVID-19. Let it not be lost on us that in this scenario, government policy is to send our children to the trenches. This is simply not acceptable. You can find the petition here – your signature can help us to take this stand.

1st June is an arbitrary date, a policy dictated by convenience and money, and predicated upon London’s 0.4 “R” rate of COVID-19 transmission rather than the realities faced in each region. Government figures suggest that Yorkshire and the North East’s R rate is 0.8, whilst estimates for York itself put the number at beyond 1.

I started the petition because wanted to throw some weight behind the teachers and the unions; to show them that they have the support of my City’s parents. The government has done a great job of vilifying teachers for pointing out the dangers associated with the 1 June policy, and flanked by the mainstream media, have managed to bring the general public with them and pit anxious working parents against teachers and other school workers (who are themselves anxious working parents).

As a parent of two young children, I felt voiceless and powerless. I imagined there must be others who felt that same way, with nowhere to air that concern other than shouting into the void on social media; nowhere to stamp their feet and make their voice heard. So the petition is to empower those people and give them an outlet

York’s City Council needs, I’m sure like many Local Authorities across the country, to understand that the parents of the city are not passive bystanders to this crisis, but mothers and fathers fearful for the physical and mental health of their children. We need the City Council to do its job, to make decisions and act as a barrier between the callous, reckless central government and the communities it purportedly represents. 

The City of York Council cannot act as central government has done so much throughout this crisis and wash its hands of decision making, leaving individuals to “do the right thing”. It cannot, and should not, pass the buck on to headteachers, and ultimately then onto the individuals. In a situation as unique as this pandemic, where the actions of an unwitting individual can spiral out and hurt or maybe even kill so many people, it is not good enough to force the parents of young children to decide whether their child should play truant or not. 

We elect our councillors to make difficult decisions, rooted in the communities they serve, and in the best interests of those communities. We must make those councillors hear the voices of these communities, just as the councils in the North West of England have done.

It’s important to re-visit some of the general public’s thinking on this topic; that teachers are lazy or cowardly. This petition, and the outcome I want, is not about punishing those people who need to send their children to school because they themselves are being forced to work under risky circumstances. 

I recognise that many are now having to work in unsafe circumstances, protected only by loose government guidance and advice about maintaining distance etc “where possible”. I do not think teachers are special and deserve better treatment than others (albeit our children are a different matter!) but I instead think that everyone should be protected. Teachers are one of the most unionised professions in the country; if we can start there, we can start a quiet revolution where workers’ safety (particularly now) is paramount. In doing so, we can bring everyone up to a better standard, rather than accepting that a baseline “danger to life” risk has now been established for less unionised workers, and so all (even our children) should now expect to face that same risk as part of their day job.

We must remind ourselves that 1st June is simply an arbitrary date, plucked out of thin air, not based upon science but based upon convenience. We cannot let our children be exposed to such risk for the sake of convenience. 

Central government’s U-turn this on fees charged to NHS workers from overseas shows that activism and opposition can achieve change, even when faced with an 80-seat majority. Let’s collectively send a message from the bottom up that people have power and decision makers have to listen, particularly when we are talking about playing with the lives of our children.


Tagged under: Education Covid19

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