At least five more schools in Croydon and Sutton, including two large secondaries, have been hit by positive tests for covid-19 among their staff or pupils, after just the first full week of the new school year, with one borough director of public health admitting that he “expects further incidents to occur”.
And a leader of a national trades union which represents 250,000 people who work in schools has warned that “it is only a matter of time before someone dies”.
London’s school pupils began returning to their classrooms this month, with individual schools in Croydon allowed to check that their covid-safe precautions for the return were satisfactory, without any outside supervision from the council.
By Saturday, as Inside Croydon reported, West Thornton Primary and Ridgeway Primary, in Sanderstead, had both swiftly been forced to change their plans or postpone the return of pupils after staff members had shown symptoms of covid-19 and tested positive for the virus.
Now, Inside Croydon understands that Crescent Primary, in Selhurst, and the Virgo Fidelis girls’ convent school in Upper Norwood have also both had their plans disrupted after covid-19 positive tests within the first few days of the new term.
In a letter to parents last week, the head at Crescent Primary wrote, “We can confirm that an individual tested positive for covid-19 last week. The school identified all close contacts of the individual who were asked to isolate for 14 days and were advised to book a test if they began to show symptoms of covid-19 themselves.
“The school has been cleaned in line with government guidelines.”
In the case of Virgo Fidelis, executive headteacher Grainne Grabowski issued a five-page letter to parents (click here to download a copy) detailing the complicated arrangements being made for pupils and staff across the school’s split sites, in order to comply with covid-19 safety requirements and to cope with their main school buildings having been declared unsafe.
But while sources close to the school say that one teacher has tested positive and six teaching colleagues have been forced to self-isolate for two weeks, there is no information on the school’s website and parents have not been formally updated with the situation.
This morning, the school did not respond to Inside Croydon’s questions.
In neighbouring Sutton, Imran Choudhury, the council’s director of public health, has confirmed that that three of the borough’s schools, including John Fisher catholic boys’ secondary school, on the Sutton-Purley boundary, as well as Devonshire Primary (central Sutton) and St Elphege’s Primary (Wallington), have already been affected by covid-19.
At John Fisher, the positive test was from a Year 8 pupil.
At St Elphege’s “several staff and pupils” have reported feeling unwell, though have not yet been confirmed as having caught coronavirus.
“Three schools have sent home whole classes or bubbles of children this week after contact with a case or suspected case of covid-19,” Choudhury wrote.
“A single staff member tested positive at Devonshire Primary School which led to the Year 2 group being sent home. The John Fisher Catholic Boys School have asked all Year 8 pupils to self-isolate after one pupil tested positive.” A whole year group at John Fisher numbers at least 180 boys.
“And St Elpheges RC Infant/Junior School have asked four classes to self-isolate after several staff and pupils reported feeling unwell; this was taken as a precautionary measure by the school after discussion with London Public Health England colleagues.
“What has been positive is how all the schools have responded proactively, following the national and the local guidance that we produced. Concerns were quickly raised to London Public Health England colleagues and appropriate advice given to the school and letters issued for parents.
“The bubbles of children who have been sent home will need to isolate for 14 days, allowing the rest of the children in their school to continue their classes. This is the proper response to a single case in a school and this is not classified as an outbreak. At this stage there are no signs of any serious illness in any of the affected individuals. As the children and staff at St Elpheges are awaiting test results we cannot yet confirm whether this is indeed related to covid-19…
“As cases across London continue to rise, I do expect further incidents like this to occur. However, I am satisfied that the local system has responded well to these initial incidents.”
Latest estimates suggest more than 700 schools across the UK have been affected by one or more cases of covid-19 since they started to return to the classrooms, starting in Scotland in August. Of that total, 488 schools in England are affected.
The speed at which infection has spread in schools has prompted one union leader to say that he would support his members if they walked out of work because they did not feel safe from catching the deadly virus.
Writing in yesterday’s Sunday Mirror, Roger McKenzie, who is running to be the next general secretary of Unison, said, “With a growing amount of infections in a growing amount of schools and nothing being done to protect members, it is only a matter of time before someone dies.
“That will be the responsibility of this negligent government.”
There are around 250,000 Unison members working in schools, as cleaners, catering staff, teaching assistants and other staff. A walk-out by such workers would force many of the reopened schools to close again.
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