Covid fears spark union rebellion in England over back to school

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Principals are considering legal action against the government as the biggest teachers’ union in the UK says members should not return

The government is facing a huge rebellion over its attempts to open schools again from teachers and head teachers.

On Saturday, the principals launched legal action against the Department of Education to force ministers to disclose why they believe it is safe to reopen schools on Monday, given the higher portability, particularly among children, of the new Covid 19 version.

The National Head Teachers Association (NAHT) and the School and College Leaders Association have instructed lawyers to write to the government, giving it a 4 p.m. deadline. Share some information or scientific evidence on Monday that indicates the reopening of schools is secure.

NAHT also plans to provide school administrators with recommendations suggesting that no action be taken against workers who fail to come to work because they think it is dangerous.

Distance learning support has been voiced by unions representing teachers and support workers.

NASUWT General Secretary Dr. Patrick Roach states in a letter to Secretary of Education Gavin Williamson that this is “the only sensible and credible option at this time to minimize the risks to school workers and protect public health.”

The GMB said “a dangerous recipe for chaos” was the multiple arrangements at higher levels which created increased stress for parents, pupils and support staff.

On Saturday, the U.K.’s main teachers’ union warned teachers not to return to their classrooms for safety concerns on Monday.

The NEU, which accounts for the majority of teachers and more than 450,000 school staff in the United Kingdom, told its representatives that returning to school before mid-January at the earliest is not secure for them.

It wants most of its members to follow its recommendations, which would cause most schools to turn to most of their students’ online learning.

The union will have a sample letter to its members to give to principals stating why they refuse to go to work because their jobs are dangerous – a right enshrined in the Employment Rights Act 1996, Section 44.

Employees should also be willing to operate remotely, says the union, and they should volunteer to take care of needy students on school campuses and the children of key staff members.

The government expects England’s elementary school to reopen in two days after another U-turn on Friday, with the exception of London schools and southern local authorities where transmission rates for Covid-19 are high.

Secondary school students are scheduled to return on Jan. 11 in England’s examination year, the same day most schools in Wales will reopen.

All the other high school students in England are expected to return a week later, on Jan. 18, as are all schools in Scotland.

NEU Joint Secretary General Kevin Courtney said the government was irresponsible and disregarded the advice of its own experts in the Scientific Advisory Group on Emergencies (Sage).

He said it was clear from the minutes of the last Sage conference, released on New Year’s Eve, that before Christmas, scientists had informed ministers that schools needed to be closed in order to contain the new, highly transmissible form of coronavirus.

The Dec. 22 minutes note that with schools closed, ‘R would be lower’ and that it was highly doubtful that if schools remained open, the government would be able to hold R below 1, with further research not possible until the effect of school vacations on transmission rates was known in mid-January.

NEU representatives who are penalized for refusing to operate on school campuses by their principals can count on the help of the union in any legal action, Courtney said. “We realize that this late announcement is a major inconvenience to parents and principals. However, the fault lies with the government itself and is the result of its inability to understand data, its indecision and its cavalier approach to its core duty to protect public health,” he said.

We want to see the schools get there as fast as possible.

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