By Isabel Ringrose
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Tories plough ahead with unsafe return to schools

This article is over 3 years, 9 months old
Issue 2719
A protest over Tory schools plans in south east London earlier this year
A protest over Tory schools plans in south east London earlier this year (Pic: Guy Smallman)

Boris Johnson this week reiterated his drive to get all children in England back to school full time next month.

Yet the Tories are refusing to put in place measures to make schools safer, such as smaller class sizes to enable social distancing.

A growing number of Covid-19 cases in Scottish schools shows the risks of fully reopening without such measures.

Initial plans would have seen a gradual return to full time education in Scotland. But just weeks before this was set to begin, the government announced that it expected “all pupils to be at school full time from 18 August”.

Schools across Scotland are now reporting cases of the virus. An entire primary school class and their teacher at St Albert’s Primary School in Glasgow are self-isolating after a case of coronavirus. Eight pupils at Bannerman High School in Glasgow are also self-isolating.

Angela McCormick, a college teacher and EIS union member, told Socialist Worker that safety measures in other areas are not in place in schools. “You have to wear a face covering in all public areas,” she said.

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“If there is social distancing afforded to every other walk of life in Scotland, why not to school students and staff?”

Primary school pupils are not expected to be socially-distancing, but secondary schools are expected to encourage distancing between students. Personal protective equipment is not deemed necessary.

“They’ve taken a gamble with full time return with no masks or social-distancing,” Angela said.

Staff have been told to physically distance from each other and one-way systems in corridors are being put in place.

However, an image from Clydebank High School of students crammed into a crowded corridor shows that such measures aren’t enforced.

The Scottish government has tried to blame the spread of the virus on pupils and staff. It claims cases come from community clusters, rather than school-based clusters.

Angela said, “The government is blaming young people for mixing and going to parties. You can’t be blaming young people when the government decided on a full return to education without masks and social distancing. It’s an absolute disgrace.”

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In a daily briefing on Friday, Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon said there was a possibility the rules would change.

Yet she followed this by reiterating that there is no evidence coronavirus is being transmitted in schools.

In Dundee, Kingspark School was shut for deep cleaning after eight adults connected to school tested positive for Covid-19.

By Monday, 17 teachers had tested positive alongside two students and three community contacts. A pupil at a primary school in Inverness also tested positive. Despite a small number of pupils who had been in contact with the pupil, the school remains open.

Angela said, “The most important thing for them is to keep the wheels of industry turning. They will have to listen to pressure from teaching and support staff unions.”

Reopening schools without safe measures is a dangerous risk to staff, students, and their families.

Children transmit virus

A new study has cast doubt on Tory claims that children are less likely to transmit coronavirus. The Massachusetts General Hospital and Mass General Hospital for Children research found that children are silent spreaders of Covid-19.

Children had higher levels of the virus in their airways than adults who were hospitalised. A higher “viral load” means they are more contagious.

And although younger children have lower numbers of the virus receptor, this did not correlate with a decreased viral load. Lead author of the study, Lael Yonker, said researchers found “high levels of virus in children of all ages”.

And senior author Alessio Fasano added, “Kids are not immune from this infection. We should not discount children as potential spreaders for this virus.”

Researchers added that looking for symptoms isn’t enough to stay safe as children can be asymptomatic but still contagious.

They said measures such as universal mask use and social distancing are vital.

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