Academy trust closes schools over coronavirus because it has ‘pupils of Italian origin’

An academy trust is closing all three of its academies over the coronavirus scare “because its schools have some students of Italian origin”.

In a letter to parents, the Khalsa Academies Trust said it has closed the schools for a “deep clean” across the next two days.

Parents were told this was based on advice given to schools by the government and “because our schools have some students of Italian origin”. The schools are Khalsa Academy Wolverhampton, Khalsa Secondary Academy, in Buckinghamshire, and Atam Academy, in London.

But the trust has since clarified that its decision is based on concerns about “students who either visited Northern Italy, or have had relatives or friends who visited them from category 1 and 2 regions, over the half term break”.

“Given that volume of connections to affected areas, we feel it is prudent to shut the schools so that a deep-clean can be undertaken,” said chief executive Nick Kandola in a statement. “This is as a precautionary measure to protect the health of our children and staff.”

The Guardian reported today that the virus has so far killed 12 people in Italy, with cases in the country having reached 378. A total of 11 Italian towns are in lockdown.

Public Health England has advised people returning from northern Italy to self-isolate if they show symptoms.

At least a dozen schools have been reported to have closed after staff and pupils returned from skiing trips to coronavirus-hit regions of the country.

The letter sent from one of the Khalsa trust schools to parents

However Public Health England (PHE) has reiterated it is not advising schools to shut in an attempt to stop the virus spreading.

The Guardian reported that the organisation’s medical director, Paul Cosford, said: “Schools have to take difficult decisions given the complexity of issues that they are facing. What I would say is that our general advice is not to close schools.

“What we are clear about is if you have been in the area of northern Italy of concern and you have symptoms – it is a cough, shortness of breath or fever – then you do need to self-isolate, you need to phone NHS 111 and await advice for further assessment or testing.

He added PHE was on hand to talk to schools about their “specific circumstances” and “help them make the right decisions for them”.

Richard Pollock, head teacher of Cransley School in Cheshire, which closed after some pupils showed flu-like symptoms, said he had made the decision after despite PHE advice that the school should stay open.

CORONAVIRUS: What schools need to know

In a letter to parents, he said both he and the school’s governors believe it was the best way to “completely minimise possible spread of infection… During this time, the school will be able to conduct a deep clean, and monitor the results of tests amongst those pupils who are currently showing flu-like symptoms.”

However headteachers have reportedly said advice over the virus has been “inconsistent”.

At the Khalsa schools, parents were told the closure is “purely a precautionary measure, as we are placing the safety and wellbeing of our students and staff as a top priority”.

“There are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 within any of the three schools, nor do we suspect there to be any such cases at this present time.”

All schools will reopen at the start of next week, the trust told Schools Week.

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  1. Unless the pupils had recently returned from Italy then there was no need to close the schools (and even then it would be an over-reaction – school should follow guidance). This knee-jerk measure risks stoking prejudice against all people of ‘Italian origin’ even when they’ve been born in the UK and never visited Italy. There have already been attacks on people who look Chinese.

  2. Mark Watson

    Is this a poorly written letter, e.g. did the schools have students of Italian origin who had been to some of the locked down Italian towns over half term and had then returned to the schools? In which case closing the schools may have been the right decision. (Guidance is just that, guidance not rules. And in any event the guidance issued is against ‘general closure’ and most certainly does not say schools should remain open in all circumstances.)

    However even if that was the case there’s really no excuse for such a poorly written letter which does, as Janet says above, smack of the “no dogs no Irish” attitudes of old against foreigners and stokes prejudice …

  3. Harprit seehra

    I as a parent at the school. Am not happy with the closure of the school. There was absolutely no need for it. They are messing with the children’s education unnecessarily and inconveniencing working parents and what for exactly? I Think this Nick has a lot to answer for and authorities should be questioning this behaviour.

  4. Raman Kaur

    I am not happy about the school closing for a ‘deep clean’. I would understand if there was a probably threat that the students could have been exposed to the virus, however in this case there is not even a possibility of it. It saddens me to witness, that when children are taken out of school for a day or so, there are very firm guidelines on how important education is and how even a day of losing that learning can affect their progress. Yet, here the choice is to close the school for no apparent threat and as a just in case measure because some of students ‘look’ like they could contaminate others.

  5. Rik Taylor

    This Trust has completely overreacted and ignored all the advice from PHE, DfE and the NHS.

    If they had any students that had flu-like symptoms that had been to a category 2 area then you would have only needed to self isolate those students until they were tested.

    I would be surprised if any of these students would fit the criteria to be tested so sending them home is just a waste of time and damaging to their education.

    Also if you are going to send them home what is the point in doing so until next Monday when the virus takes 14 days to incuboate.

    All this unnecessary closure does is stoke fear and panic. It is the equivalent of closing the school because it might snow even when it’s still sunny.

    Let’s hope other schools ignore this type of reckless behaviour and make informed decisions based on the advice of experts.