The Children’s Commissioner has called for a ‘clear and unified message’ from Jersey’s politicians about the decision to reopen schools this week.
Deborah McMillan has issued a statement following Senator Tracey Vallois' resignation as Education Minister, and different politicians giving varying opinions on whether schools should be open right now.
The Chief Minister and Health Minister said in a media briefing last week that they supported the advice to reopen schools from today, given the island's lower rate of infection and higher rate of testing compared to the UK, along with the extra measures put in place in schools to keep staff and students safe.
However, along with the concerns from Senator Vallois, Reform Jersey's Deputy Rob Ward sent a letter calling the decision to reopen schools 'irresponsible' given the ongoing uncertainty over whether the new strain of Covid-19 is present on-island.
Our Education spokesperson, Deputy Robert Ward - Reform Jersey, has written to the government to outline our concerns at the plans to reopen schools to all students on Monday.Posted by Reform Jersey on Friday, 8 January 2021
Ms McMillan says there is enough chaos in young people’s lives at the moment, without the added confusion of mixed messages from our island’s leaders.
The Children's Commissioner has welcomed the decision to reopen schools this week, despite concerns from some families and politicians across the island.
"These past ten months has been an extremely challenging time, and every part of our community has suffered hardships and disruptions as a result of the pandemic. But we must continue to be mindful of the fact that the closure of our schools is – and must remain – a measure of last resort.
"The expert advice provided by STAC is the best indicator of when such a measure is necessary for the protection of life and public health. Meanwhile, I urge States Members, professional colleagues, teachers, parents and carers to remain focused on the fact that, even in the midst of a global pandemic, we are dutybound to protect all children’s human rights.
"And when schools remain closed for protracted periods of time, the adverse effects on those rights, as well as on students’ physical and mental wellbeing, can be significant.
"Schools are not simply institutions of learning. They are a fundamental and necessary part of every young life, providing invaluable support and protection to many. And, unless it’s absolutely unavoidable, the cost of staying away from school is simply too great."
While many students have returned to the classroom, some have remained at home.
The government says it will publish schools data daily, including attendance rates, from today (Tuesday 12 January).
Schools welcomed back pupils back this week as the government starts its plan to slowly ease Covid-19 restrictions.
Ms McMillan also wants a published set of minimum standards for online learning to help students who are still working from home, and for all students to have the technology to do this.
"There are many pupils who are currently not in school, for a variety of perfectly valid reasons. Perhaps they are shielding a family member or themselves, or perhaps contact tracing or teaching staff shortages have meant that their particular cohort has been singled out. Whatever the reason, though, the fact remains that all schools need to be in a position to deliver high-quality home learning.
"I would therefore like to see the immediate publication of minimum standards for online learning, in the form of written guidance, so that there can be a consistent offer across all schools in the Island.
"Similarly, issues around digital exclusion must be directly addressed during this period. We know that some students still do not have access to the necessary technology to undertake home learning, and yet there seems to be continuing debate and uncertainty around whose responsibility this is."