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‘Eton is closed - why aren’t we?’ Haringey parents protest schools return and say coronavirus risk is ‘too high’

PUBLISHED: 19:01 01 June 2020 | UPDATED: 14:03 02 June 2020

Demonstrators called on the government to halt schools reopening as they believe people's lives are being put at risk to restart the economy. Picture: Polly Hancock.

Demonstrators called on the government to halt schools reopening as they believe people's lives are being put at risk to restart the economy. Picture: Polly Hancock.

Polly Hancock

Parents and teachers protested outside Haringey Civic Centre on Monday and demanded schools stay closed “until it is safe” as the Covid-19 risk is “too high”.

Teacher and parent Julie Mukherjee outside Haringey Civic Centre. Picture: Polly HancockTeacher and parent Julie Mukherjee outside Haringey Civic Centre. Picture: Polly Hancock

Primary pupils across Reception, Years 1 and 6 are now allowed back in class as of June 1 but the vast majority of Haringey schools will not reopen this week and many schools will stagger their return following criticism from teachers unions, local authorities and a SAGE member.

Organised by Haringey Coronavirus Action Network and Haringey Concerned Parents, the group of around 15 demonstrators said economic priorities were being placed above people’s health and argued the reopening would hit hardest the poorest families and BAME communities.

Anna Gluckstein, a Haringey parent and Hackney teacher said: “This is fundamentally about the health and safety of staff, children and, more than that, the families of these children.

“We absolutely want kids in schools but only when it is safe.

Protestors socially distancing including Janet Evans (centre), from Tottenham. Picture: Polly HancockProtestors socially distancing including Janet Evans (centre), from Tottenham. Picture: Polly Hancock

“We are not saying there will never be any risk but we are saying the risk at the moment is much too high for very little gain.”

Anna added the protest was to give residents who felt forced into living and travelling to work in “unsafe” conditions the confidence to protect their health and reject the easing of lockdown restrictions.

Protesters also queried why state schools were returning when private schools such as Eton remained shut.

Secondary pupils in Year 10 and 12 will start to return from June 15.

Anna Gluckstein, said there was currently too high a risk for too little gain. Picture: Polly HancockAnna Gluckstein, said there was currently too high a risk for too little gain. Picture: Polly Hancock

Julie Mukherjee, a teacher who has two children at Alexandra Park School, said: “It’s all about getting the parents to get back to work, getting the economy going again at the expense of our health and lives.

“I understand parents’ fears and instability over lockdown, economically, but what we need to bear in mind is the priority of our health.”

Demonstrators called on Haringey Council, which has been vocal in opposition to the June 1 return, to take an even stronger line and “campaign” against schools’ reopening.

Haringey Council emphasised it is parents’ choice whether to send their children to school and headteachers’ responsibility as to when they reopen.

It said the town hall had arranged regular meetings with headteachers during lockdown and briefed them on public health advice, and that it would continue to deliver risk assessments to ensure schools are “Covid-secure”.

Cllr Zena Brabazon, Haringey Council education lead, said: “Everybody must put public safety first.

“As a parent, grandparent and the deputy leader of the borough, I believe that reopening of our schools by governing bodies must be predicated on the basis that it is safe to do so and the government guidance is met, which includes a list of key issues and actions.”

Cllr Brabazon added: “Our hard-working teaching staff, parents and children deserve to know that it is safe when they go to school.”

Haringey Liberal Democrats education spokesperson Cllr Sakina Chenot said the government and council should support a system of remote learning for children whose parents decide to keep them at home.

Catherine West, Hornsey and Wood Green MP said the safety and wellbeing of pupils must take precedence.

Ms West said: “Returning to school is a priority for the sake of pupil’s education but it can only happen when it is safe to do so, and the government have failed to reassure parents and staff despite the calls from their scientific advisors.”

Education secretary Gavin Williamson said the government’s five tests had been met around the NHS, the death rate, the infection rate, testing and the risk of a second peak, and that the return of schools would be “phased” and “cautious”.

Mr Williamson said: “This marks the first step in getting all children and young people back into classrooms so they can be with their friends and teachers again, and I’m enormously grateful for all the planning and preparation the sector has done in the lead up to welcoming these first pupils back.”

For more information on Haringey schools and their return click here.


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