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During the Covid-19 pandemic, the Government recklessly announced that all children should return to school, even if they had previously been classed as clinically extremely vulnerable. We successfully put pressure on the Education Secretary to guarantee support for vulnerable children and families.
On 19 August 2021, Government wrote to families once classed as especially vulnerable to Covid to say it no longer considers them vulnerable and telling them to attend school – despite the absence of adequate, and in many cases any, protection for them.
Schools might well have been the least safe institution in the country. Alone, we believe, they did no contact tracing. Face mask use is discouraged. The Government’s own expert advisors, SAGE, considered it “highly likely” that there will be “exponential increases” of Covid in school-age children when schools reopen. And the world’s largest study found that as many as one in seven children who got Covid would suffer long Covid.
Parents who are frightened of what this means for their kids or vulnerable family members faced fines or prosecution if they kept their kids at home until schools were made safe. And schools or local authorities, worried about attendance figures, could bully vulnerable families into deregistering children. The only way out for families was to risk the health of children.
We didn’t think this state of affairs was lawful – and it was certainly not right.
We wrote to Gavin Williamson, the Minister, asking him to issue guidance that protects vulnerable children and families. We made the same request of a sample of local authorities and schools. If those letters had not drawn adequate responses, we were ready to begin court proceedings to ensure compliance with the law.
The cases would adhere to the principles set out in that advice. The solicitors in the case were Simpson Millar, whom Good Law Project instructed in its successful action to protect A-Level students. These cases were crowdfunded.
If you are in a position to donate to support the legal actions, you can do so here: https://glplive.org/keep-children-safe-cj
We have no magic wand that can make the problems go away. Plainly we want children back in school. But the transition to a world with Covid is complex. It will take time and sensitivity. And what we want in the meantime is for Governments, local authorities and schools to support the reasonable assessments of loving families of what is in the interests of their children and other vulnerable family members.
What cannot happen – but what Government seems determined should happen – is that we pretend we live in a world without Covid. We won’t allow the health of vulnerable families to be sacrificed on the altar of politics.
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