States Members have rejected proposals to close schools next week, despite growing concerns over the recent increase in corona virus cases and large numbers of pupils having to isolate.
The proposal brought forward by Deputy Rob Ward – which was debated in an emergency sitting of the States Assembly - was defeated with 28 votes ‘against’ and only 17 ‘for’.
States Members overwhelmingly agreed to continue with the debate despite the Health Minister, Deputy Richard Renouf, saying it wasn’t appropriate.
Pictured: The Health Minister said it wasn't appropriate to debate the closure of schools when medical advice said it was safe for them to stay open.
He said it wasn’t for the Parliament to do the job of a minister and told Members that closing a school was a matter for the headteachers, Children, Young People, Education and Skills and and the Minister.
He also noted that the vote wouldn’t override the law and that the Education Minister would still need to refer to medical advice before doing anything.
This was cited by the Chief Minister, Senator John Le Fondré, as a reason not to support the proposition later on in the debate.
The Assembly has voted to REJECT parts one and three of Deputy Pamplin's Amendment and ADOPT all of part four relating to school closures. Details of the amendment can be accessed here: https://t.co/bBA02kIuNW https://t.co/Nf6XKg8Gi8— States Assembly (@StatesAssembly) December 10, 2020
Introducing his proposition, Deputy Ward described a “breaking point in schools”. He said his proposal aimed to allow schoolwork to continue safely for all, noting that the current situation was taking its toll and causing additional stresses to teachers and students alike.
He quoted several comments from local teachers, some of which said children were “terrified”, unfocused and felt like in the Hunger Games.
One said the counsellor at their school had been “swamped with children as young as 11 having panic attacks”.
One pointed to the “dark atmosphere” within their school, saying it felt like a funeral with no one smiling.
The St. Helier representative got emotional as he read the words of a teacher who said they felt like “cannon fodder” and had never felt more undervalued.
Pictured: Deputy Rob Ward got emotional as he read the words of a teacher who said they felt like “cannon fodder”.
The Assembly then started discussing Deputy Kevin Pamplin’s amendment which sought to keep primary schools open and close secondary schools and colleges and ensure school provision for the children of parents who have no access to alternative childcare. Both proposals failed.
Deputy Pamplin also asked for enhanced monitoring systems for vulnerable children, mental health assistance and for schools to allow parents to keep their children home if they were concerned about the virus, without recording the absence as unauthorised – all of which the States Assembly supported.
The second amendment, from Deputy Louise Doublet, asked for Early Years pupils and students in exam years to be kept in school and to extend eligibility for the Isolation Benefit to parents or carers whose children are affected by school closures – all of which were defeated.
During the three subsequent debates, several Members questioned why it was being suggested to depart from the medical advice which stated it was better for children to be in a controlled environment than in the community.
Pictured: Deputy Scott Wickenden said it made no sense to refuse the advice of the Deputy Medical Officer for Health, Dr Ivan Muscat, now.
Deputy Scott Wickenden said it made no sense to refuse the advice of the Deputy Medical Officer for Health, Dr Ivan Muscat, now and that the Assembly shouldn’t send the message that it had lost its confidence in health professionals.
Some other members seemed to doubt that it was safe for schools to remain open.
Deputy Geoff Southern said the second wave was worse than the first with “extensive community transmission”.
“It seems to be everywhere, and it is certainly in school,” he said, adding that the pandemic was “in danger of taking over our society”.
Deputy Judy Martin, the Minister for Social Security, said she was disappointed to have the debate and questioned what effect supporting the vote would have on other key workers who were also in contact with the public – which Senator Sam Mézec called “infuriating” noting that teacher worked in a unique environment.
Pictured: Deputy Martin called out islanders on social media and what she described as their “obsession” with lockdown.
She later called out islanders on social media and what she described as their “obsession” with lockdown.
Members also disagreed on whether the proposition was in the best interests of children.
Deputy Jérémy Maçon, the Children’s Minister, suggested the closure would exacerbate “the gap between the haves and have-nots” and put children in harm’s way.
The Constable of St. John, Chris Taylor, said the proposal not only didn’t put children first and but would also increase income inequality.
Deputy Monty Tadier, who described the schools as “potential breeding grounds for the disease”, argued it was in the best interests of the children to look after those who teach them.
Deputy Jess Perchard argued schools should have been given the autonomy to make their own decisions regarding the closures, as current arrangements required them to jump through hoops and secure the approval of their Minister.
Pictured: Deputy Perchard said headteachers should be able to decide whether to close their schools or not.
The Environment Minister, Deputy John Young, agreed with her argument noting that it was not about challenging the medical advice which he described as “outstanding”.
Earlier in the debate, he had said that the pandemic had proven that the “rigid model” the schools had been stuck in was a problem and called them out from not being as adaptable and flexible as other sectors.
Deputy Kirsten Morel pointed out that online education was not an equivalent substitute to learning in schools – an argument Deputy Inna Gardner supporter explaining her own daughter had
However, Senator Mézec pointed out that having some children at school and others at home made it very difficult to teach.
Several Members mentioned Wales where a decision was made today to move all secondary schools and colleges online from Monday as a result of covid. Senator Kristina Moore urged the Assembly to follow the example, describing the local situation as “chaotic”. “Let’s bring some order to the chaos,” she said.
Concerns were raised over parents who might find themselves unable to look after their children. Deputy Mary Le Hegarat agreed that school was not childcare but said that parents plan around it and might not be able to find an alternative.
Deputy Martin warned the closure would affect the most vulnerable children and parents and might even lead some parents to being sacked.
Deputy Louise Doublet said she wouldn’t support the proposition without the “safeguards” she had tried to bring forward.
Summing up Deputy Ward said the recent announcement of Scotland banning non-essential travel to the island didn’t bode well for the way the Government had handled the health crisis.
He also referred to the increased number of cases in schools, some of which had to close on a ad-hoc way.
Pictured: Eight cases were identified at Hautlieu over the last two days.
Members heard during the debate that 40% of secondary schools students and 20% of primary school pupils - were away from school as a result of covid.
A press release sent out during the debate stated eight cases at Hautlieu School, as well as one at Victoria College and Les Quennevais each, had been identified over the last two days.
Another case was also found at Grainville School according to a letter sent to parents.
An adult linked to St Martin’s School breakfast club was also reported to have tested positive.
Meanwhile Plat Douet announced a temporary closure of three classes in Plat Douet due to staff shortages.
The States Assembly has voted to REJECT @deputyrobward’s Proposition, as amended by Deputy @KevinPamplin. This means Jersey’s state-run schools will not close from Monday 14th December. Find out more here: https://t.co/iaFCBeYGBu https://t.co/GwienLuHcX— States Assembly (@StatesAssembly) December 10, 2020
The St. Helier Deputy called for “proper leadership” adding it required courageous decisions to be made and urged the Assembly to support his proposals, which were eventually defeated.
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