Three mums who have kept their children off school since the start of the pandemic face court action and fines of up to £2,500.
The parents are being pursued by separate local authorities as term restarts with moves by the government to allay the spread of Covid among pupils as infection rates hit record levels.
The measures include recommending that secondary students in England wear masks in classrooms as a temporary measure and an extra 7,000 air cleaning units being provided to schools, colleges and early year settings.
However, the mums all say they would rather go to prison then send their children back into classes before what they view as rigorous Covid mitigations are put in place.
April May Booth, from Portsmouth, has been summonsed by the city council to appear at court later this month after pulling her son, Casper, out of in-person education in March 2020. Ms Booth, 32, removed the 12-year-old from his final year of primary school and although he is now enrolled at The Portsmouth Academy, he has never attended.
The self-employed artist, who has skin cancer, told Metro.co.uk that she has been home-schooling her son and plans to plead not guilty.
She said: ‘Casper has been off school since the start of the pandemic when his grandad was in intensive care with Covid for over six weeks, and it was touch and go for a while. That was what initially started this. I have never felt that schools are safe and wanted to take a precautionary approach.
‘I’ve had meetings with the academy and the local authority and I’ve kept an eye on all the risk assessments and precautions, which have included keeping windows open dependent on the weather.
‘Schools are only just catching up with the fact that Covid is airborne, and I’ve been asking all along for CO2 monitors to identify poorly ventilated areas, but I’ve been treated like a nutcase.
‘With the new variant it seems like the government has given the vaccine to adults and now expects children to take it on the chin.
‘With case numbers going through the roof I can’t believe that any parent should be dragged through the courts when they are only trying to protect their children, their families and the community.
‘Casper is not a “ghost child”, they are welcome to knock on my door and check on his welfare whenever they want.’
Ms Booth also fears the disruption caused by rising infections and the related precautions will have an adverse impact on Casper, who shows signs of Autism spectrum disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder that have been identified by mental health professionals.
A spokesperson for the academy said: ’Our highest priority is keeping students and staff at the school as safe as possible.
‘We take Covid precautions extremely seriously, following all public health advice on testing and self-isolation, and on ensuring good hygiene at all times, maintaining frequent cleaning regimes, and keeping occupied spaces as well ventilated as possible.
‘After any case we carefully consider if it is appropriate to add additional measures and liaise with public health officials.
‘We are pleased that the vast majority of parents have confidence in what we are doing to keep everyone at the school as safe as possible.
‘Attendance at school is mandatory so that children and young people can continue to receive an excellent education.
‘Missing school means students fall behind, which has serious consequences for their progression. It is right that action is taken against parents who consistently deny children their right to be educated.’
Portsmouth City Council declined to comment on the specific case until after the court hearing.
Cllr Suzy Horton, Cabinet Member for Children, Families and Education, said: ‘Portsmouth schools have been following the national guidance in order to make school as safe as possible for all pupils during what has been an extremely challenging time for everyone, including families and schools.’
Two other mums, Sarah Paxman and Lisa Diaz, have previously told how they face court action for keeping their sons off school.
Ms Paxman, 38, has been told by Surrey County Council that unless her son, Stanley, resumes attendance it is the local authority’s intention to summons her to appear before magistrates.
She faces a fine of up to £2,500 which can be alongside or in addition to a term of up to three imprisonment if she is convicted. Ms Paxman told Metro.co.uk today that she intends to plead not guilty.
Mrs Diaz has said schools are ‘petri dishes’ for Covid and she will only send her nine-year-old daughter, Helena, back when the pupil is double-vaccinated. The mum of two, 40, has been told by Wigan Council that Helena’s ‘poor attendance record’ could land her a fine and might also lead to family court proceedings.
In both cases, the local authorities have defended their actions and said that children’s attendance is important for their development and wellbeing.
The mums are being pursued at a time when Omicron is threatening a national crisis in the NHS and disruption to public services.
In a joint statement yesterday, the four main teaching unions warned of high absence rates among staff and, while welcoming the latest measures, said that the spring term will be ‘extremely challenging’.
Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi told the BBC: ‘The painful lesson we learnt was when children weren’t in school, the impact on their mental health and, of course their education, was quite substantial.
‘Which is why I’m so determined, as is the prime minister, to make sure education remains open and children are in the best place when they’re in the classroom, with their friends, learning in front of a teacher.’
The Department for Education (DfE) has previously said: ‘We remain committed to protecting face-to-face education and keeping schools open for all pupils, because the classroom is the very best place for children’s development and wellbeing.
‘We have strengthened our protective measures in a targeted and proportionate way in response to the Omicron variant.
‘In line with the wider position across society, now every child aged 12 and over with specific underlying health conditions has been offered the vaccine, it is right that all children are supported to return to class with additional measures such as regular testing in place.’
Metro.co.uk has approached the DfE for further comment.
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