The majority of schools have been closed since March due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
On 1 June 2020 we saw the reopening of nurseries and some primary school provision across England as part of the Government’s approach to children returning to school.
Debate among parents about whether to send their children back to school
As widely reported in the media, there is much debate among parents about whether or not to send their children back to school now.
This has resulted in disagreement among some divorcing or separated couples who have differing views on whether their child should return to school before a reliable vaccine or treatment is found. The balancing act for parents is trying to ascertain the risk of catching the virus whilst at the same time ensuring that their child is not deprived of their education.
What factors should parents going through divorce or separation consider together before making a joint decision (if possible) on whether their child should go back to school?
Risk to children returning to school
During the Government’s daily briefing on 3 June 2020, Professor Chris Whitty Chief Medical Officer, reassured the public by stating: “Overall it looks as though children are much less likely than adults to get severe disease and probably less likely to get clinical disease, meaning symptoms, of any sort.” He confirmed that generally speaking this is not a disease that is primarily a risk to children.
By and large, schools across the country have taken legal advice about, and are strictly implementing, the Department of Education’s various guidance documents including about returning to school. Schools are actively managing risk by adopting new measures such as requiring parents to sign declarations as to their children being symptom free; grouping children together in small “bubbles”; preventing contact between different groups; one way systems; significantly reducing the sharing of toys and resources; not to mention the all-important handwashing and coughing away from the direction of other people, using a tissue etc.
Parents need to consider the risk to their child specifically, especially if that child has underlying health conditions that could put them at greater risk.
It is also important for parents to consider whether they would be putting their household at risk by their child returning to school. The vast majority of parents to primary school children will not be in the high or moderate risk categories but if a parent is shielding at the moment they should follow the Government’s guidance.
Parents should also consider the risk to grandparents, particularly where they fall into one of the risk categories mentioned above, and this may influence their decision.
Where a family lives may contribute to the perceived risk. Some children may have to take public transport to get to school and will inevitably encounter more people than a child who is taken to school directly by car.
Parents may consider the environment of their child’s school in determining the perceived level of risk. For example, parents of children attending small schools with large amounts of outdoor space may have somewhat different views to the parents of children attending inner city schools where space is at a premium.
You can find out more on the Government’s approach to children returning to school on GOV.UK.
Divorcing couples and separated couples should ensure that they maintain a good level of communication during this difficult time and wherever possible make joint decisions. If you are unable to come an agreement with a former partner about your child’s return to education, please do contact a specialist in our team for legal advice. An application to the Family Court for a Specific Issue Order may be the appropriate legal remedy.