How Covid is hitting Harrogate schools and why parents confidence is essential

The education authority at North Yorkshire County Council remains convinced that “parents should still have strong confidence that schools are safe places for pupils.”

Thursday, 24th September 2020, 4:45 pm
Updated Thursday, 24th September 2020, 4:48 pm
A pupil tested positive for coronavirus at King James's School in Knaresborough.

The county council's director of children and young peoples’ services, Stuart Carlton, says the story of schools in Harrogate and the rest of the county since early September had been “really good” overall in the midst of the Covid pandemic.

But what do the facts say?

Information revealed at a briefing of the North Yorkshire Local Resilience Forum this week shows that 31 schools or educational establishments in the county are being specifically supported because of Covid cases.

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But North Yorkshire County Council says that adds up to a small percentage of the more than 1,000 such establishments in total.

Out of those 31 schools on the list, less than 70 actual cases of Covid had been recorded.

In terms of the Harrogate district, Mr Calton confirmed there had been five incidents of Covid at different schools in the area but these had involved a small number of pupils with disruption kept to a minimum.

Action taken had involved the following:

Three schools where one class had to be isolated;

One school where close contacts were restricted;

One school where no action had been necessary.

While still a matter of concern, Stuart Calton said the county council had expected such a scenario before reopening schools and had prepared in advance to deal with it.

The key priority was to keep schools open for the sake of youngsters’ education and mental well-being and to reassure parents that schools were safe places in which to learn thanks to measures including student bubbles.

Mr Calton said: “It’s absolutely crucial to retain parents’ confidence in returning children to schools .

“We would always look first at closing individual classes or year groups temporarily. It’s still very rare to close an entire school.”

The director of children and young peoples’ services for North Yorkshire's comments follow incidents at a small number of school incidents.

King James’s School in Knaresborough is the latest to confirm one pupil has tested positive for the virus and those in a ‘bubble’ with the student have also been sent home to self-isolate - with the same scenario occurring at Bilton Grange Primary.

Last week, St John Fisher Catholic High School confirmed two of its pupils had tested positive for Covid-19 and were at home isolating.

Those who had been in close contact with them were also told to self-isolate for 14 days and to get tested if they began to display symptoms.

Headteacher Mr Mort said: “We can confirm that we have two confirmed isolated cases of students with Covid-19 at St John Fisher Catholic High School. We have taken swift action, in line with the guidance from Public Health England, including sending out a letter to all of our parents/carers.

“We have acted upon definitive advice from the Local Health Protection Team to identify who - students and staff - should be in the close contact group. Due to the year group bubble arrangement and fixed seating plans which we have in place, we have been able to identify and contact a small number of students who have commenced a self-isolation period of 14 days.”

The school remains open and both students and staff can continue to attend as normal, as long as they, and anyone in their household, are not displaying any Covid-19 symptoms, or are awaiting a test result.

Mr Mort added: “We are working with Public Health England and following all guidance necessary to ensure the school environment is as safe as possible. We wish our students a swift recovery and look forward to welcoming them back to the school soon.”

It comes after a coronavirus case was confirmed at Harrogate Grammar School earlier that week, with 40 students sent home. Dr Lincoln Sargeant, North Yorkshire County Council’s director of public health, said: “We expect from time to time there will be positive cases affecting teachers, parents or pupils.

This may be reflective of the background increase in cases across North Yorkshire. We will work with each school individually to determine the best approach to take depending on the circumstances... Please only get a test if you have symptoms or are instructed to by contact tracers.”

The risks were further highlighted on Tuesday when a whole year group was sent home at Tadcaster Grammar School after a pupil tested positive for Covid.

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