Keep schools closed, says Reform Jersey

The party say they want an urgent vaccination programme for school and college staff to be undertaken. Credit: PA Images

Jersey's only political party is calling for schools to stay closed, amid fears of coronavirus cases rising again once they reopen.

Reform Jersey has written to the government saying they have "serious concerns" regarding students returning to schools and colleges on 11 January.

They say schools should remain shut for a further two weeks so that an increase in Christmas and New Year cases can be accounted for, and that schools and colleges should deliver online learning in the meantime.

The party has outlined a range of reasons why institutions should remain closed beyond Monday's date, including risks from the new variant of coronavirus and implementing a testing regime in schools.

The party says they cannot see how a group of 30 pupils, in bubbles of up to 200 "in crowded and ill-ventilated classrooms" can be a suitable situation for staff and students. Deputy Rob Ward who has written the letter, says it is also "irresponsible" to reopen schools when we do not know if a new strain of Covid-19 has entered the island.

It is clear that this new strain has created genuine problems for countries where it has spread. The UK being the most obvious. Can we really be certain that we are not creating the perfect breeding ground for the spread of this new version of the virus? Thus taking a virus that appears to be up to 70% more transmissible back home.

Deputy Rob Ward, Reform Jersey

The Reform politician also says he is concerned for the mental wellbeing of students if they go back too early. Deputy Ward says the party is worried about the knock-on-effect of pupils getting Covid in school and the impact it will on their families. He also says the welfare of teachers must not be forgotten about.

We want to make clear that we have serious concerns over the health of teachers and lecturers who have been under constant pressure from the very beginning of the pandemic to balance teaching and their growing roles as providers of well being support for students and families. This constant pressure will take a longer term toll on the profession.

Deputy Rob Ward, Reform Jersey
Reform want a phased approach in allowing children to return back to school. Credit: Uli Deck/DPA/PA Images

The party is now asking why teachers and lectures are not being treated like health workers in the government's vaccination programme. They believe that vaccinating teachers early on 'could mean that immunity is developed within three weeks to a reasonable level' for this crucial workforce.

A petition calling on the government to include teaching staff in the first wave of the vaccination programme, has now reached over 1,000 signatures and means Ministers will now have to respond to it.

Under their two week proposed hiatus, the party says schools and colleges must be able to plan for a phased return back into the classroom. They want primary schools to be allowed back after two weeks with staff having been vaccinated as part of an "urgent vaccination programme". That would then followed by a similar phased return for secondary schools and colleges.

Meanwhile the Assistant Education Minister has thanked schools for getting ready to reopen on Monday, saying that the wellbeing and safety of students is top priority.