On 10th December 2021 Parents United UK and One Voice: supporting vulnerable adults and children during Covid sent a joint letter to Secretary of State for Schools Nadhim Zahawi, Schools Minister Robin Walker, Shadow Secretary of State for Education Bridget Phillipson, Shadow Schools Minister Steven Morgan, and other school and education stakeholders. The content of these emails was based on the following statement:
Omicron Variant and Mitigations within Schools
Uncertainty around the transmissibility and severity of disease caused by the Omicron variant is a cause of great concern, particularly in the context of sparse mitigation of Covid-19 in schools in England and pitifully low levels of vaccination amongst school aged children.
We therefore call on the Secretary of State to protect our children and young people by immediately instituting as a bare minimum the following measures:
- Reintroduction of contact tracing in schools and isolation of close contacts, with those isolating doing so until such time as the Index case is confirmed not to be infected with the Omicron variant. Pupils who are isolating – including those waiting for the results of a PCR test – should be provided with remote education and authorised absence marked as Code X.
- Pupils who are themselves clinically vulnerable, or who have family members who are clinically vulnerable and would prefer for the child to be educated remotely should be offered this option, with the child’s absence authorised under code X, until such time as the individual can be assured of a good level of protection from vaccination.
- With children from age nine now being required to wear masks in classrooms in Ireland, FFP2 grade masks should at very least be required in classrooms for Year 5 and above as a temporary measure in schools with current outbreaks. These masks, which offer a superior level of protection to the wearer and those around them than cloth face coverings and surgical masks, should be offered free of charge to both pupils and staff in those classrooms where they are required, and to all pupils and staff previously defined as clinically vulnerable or clinically extremely who wish to access them.
- Supply portable HEPA filters for every classroom which has not been professionally assessed as having good indoor air quality with a good level of ventilation which is well controlled and accompanied by acceptable levels of thermal comfort. Special Education settings and schools in areas with the greatest prevalence of infection in school aged children should be prioritised for the roll out of this provision. This will be a valuable investment in reducing school based transmission of Covid-19, and support good respiratory health and a reduction pupil and staff absence rates. Should subsequent ventilation assessment conclude that a unit is not required in a particular classroom, it could then be redeployed to another community setting under local authority control in order to support suppression of Covid-19 and increase health and wellbeing in the wider community.
While we recognise the need for a broader range of short, medium and long term measures to thwart Covid-19, the jeopardy of our current situation requires decisive and timely action. We would therefore be grateful for a reply from the Secretary of State at the earliest opportunity, and for the full support of Shadow ministers and other stakeholders in bringing this sensible approach to bear.
Parents United UK and One Voice: supporting vulnerable adults and children during Covid