My open letter to Keir Starmer – please support parents in the Parliamentary Debate on 2nd November

28th October 2020 by an Anonymous BRTUS Member

Dear Keir,

Please support parent’s calls for the removal of fines and prosecution for school non-attendance during the pandemic at the Parliamentary debate on 2nd November.

Schools are currently afraid to use their leave of absence discretions, attendance figures are plummeting, and government guidance is severely restricting discretionary powers of headteachers and doctors. This leaves many parents choosing between fines, prosecution, de-registration, or sending their children to school even if they believe it to be against the best interests of those children; even when they have significant vulnerabilities to consider.

There has been no meaningful discussion about these very valid concerns: such discussion is stymied when conversations between parents who are not sending their children to school and local authorities end with threats of fines and prosecution. This demonstrates an extreme imbalance of power, and the apparent need to bully doesn’t inspire confidence. Fines and prosecution have no place an in allegedly “supportive” back to school strategy.

I support schools being open, and understand the significant benefits to mental health, education and the economy. However, blanket guidance is inappropriate in this context, and nothing short of lazy. Stripping away local powers prevents effective, individualised resolutions being implemented. This has serious consequences: cruel, bullying and dangerous decision-making, accompanied by threats of fines and prosecution which discriminate against higher risk groups. There is also a country-wide trend of de-registrations, with those in Derbyshire having doubled between September 2019 and September 2020.

My family is personally affected by this appalling situation. My mother – my children’s grandma – lives with us, and is vulnerable to the virus due to her age. We are both teachers, the children are happy, safe and learning. We get out most days and have kept up with some of their friends.

If we were granted a short-term a home learning arrangement, my children would thrive and be able to continue their relationship with their school. Instead, it is likely I will have to choose between fines and prosecution, or de-registration.

The confusion surrounding processes and accountability between schools, trusts and local authorities has been never-ending. I have a law degree & 20 years experience teaching 11-18 children. Yet, my initial conversation with the Local Authority successfully planted seeds of fear – I was shocked beyond belief and almost de-registered my children from their school. I lacked confidence, energy and quite frankly felt like the whole world had gone bad. How many others would have de-registered at this point? I have since decided to communicate with them only in writing, and I have felt far less easily intimidated dealing with them in this way.

Short term, understanding arrangements with schools could make the world of difference to so many families, and make schools safer for those that need and want to attend. Without such arrangements people undergoing chemotherapy, single parents with underlying health conditions and grandparents who are the sole carers are being forced to make impossible choices under duress. BRTUS: Parents United supports 1000’s of families with similar concerns. This is not a new normal: it is a crisis.

Please help end this unnecessary source of harm, upset and risk. A choice between de-registration and acting against the best interests of your children is not a real choice.

Editors Note: A version of this letter was published on Instagram accompanied by the images shown, and a link to www.writetothem.com to assist parents to write to their MP to request their support in the Parliamentary debate on 2nd November. Please write to your MP to ensure the maximum possible support to stop families being under pressure to return their children to school during the coronavirus pandemic.

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