School fines will be ‘last resort’ if parents too anxious to send children to school

Council leaders are encouraging parents to talk to schools if they are anxious about sending children back to class.

North Somerset Council has confirmed fines will be a ‘last resort’ if children fail to attend.

Cllr Catherine Gibbons, the executive member for children’s services, stressed schools are the best place for pupils’ health and wellbeing and said the damage to their education outweighs the risks of Covid-19.

The authority also set out what would happen if there were isolated cases or a cluster.

Speaking on Facebook Live, Cllr Gibbons said: “The balance of risk is such that we must encourage children to go back to school.

“The damage to their health, wellbeing and education by not attending is outweighing the risks they face in terms of the virus.

“I can accept a lot of patients are anxious about that. Not so much the risk to their children, they may feel they’re going to bring the virus into the home, where there may be vulnerable people.

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“I know our schools have been working incredibly hard. They’re setting up the classrooms in the appropriate ways and following the Government guidelines.

“I’m confident that our children will be safe and teachers will be safe. Let’s hope we can manage this return to everyone’s benefit.”

Sheila Smith, the director for people and communities, said some parents feel so strongly about the children’s safety they have decided to home educate them permanently.

Mrs Smith said: “Penalty notices would be a last resort.

“We aren’t going out there looking to impose penalty notices – but there may come a point later on where the school has put mitigations in place and the children want to go back, and we would be concerned about parents keeping them off.

“We’re strongly encouraging parents to talk to the school to get their children back into school with the least amount of anxiety.”

Setting out what would happen if someone in a school had symptoms of Covid-19, Matt Lenny, the council’s director of public health, said: “If it was a single case they’d have a test and self-isolate while waiting for the result, and then they wouldn’t return to school.”

“If we have two or more cases we’d investigate any links.

“Where there’s a cluster we’d set up an outbreak control team to understand what’s going on and address any risk.

“Closing schools, you’d need to be clear that that was appropriate. We’d need to know it would be an effective action.”

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