Can you legally stop your child going to school as lockdown is lifted?

Can you legally stop your child going to school as lockdown is lifted?

As the government begins lifting lockdown restrictions and opens up workplaces and schools, many parents have been left feeling anxious about sending their kids back into the classroom.

This reticence is understandable, particularly as there still seem to be a great many ‘unknown’ factors concerning both the Covid-19 virus itself, and the government’s provisions for students.

The current situation

At present, it has been announced that some primary schools will reopen to more pupils on 1st June. This will begin with the youngest students in Reception, as well as Year 1 and 6 respectively. This move forms part of Boris Johnson’s plan to once more open up the UK, allowing parents to work and ensuring children continue their education with limited disruption.

However, schools across the UK have expressed their concerns about this plan, stating that it will be impossible to ensure student safety at this time. In addition, a number of teachers unions have been vocal about their own misgivings – something which has been backed by the British Medical Association which recently expressed its own concerns about classroom safety.

Parental concerns

Many parents are left wondering whether sending their children back will be safe, or even possible. Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has stated that the ongoing school closures, until such time as a vaccine is created or until September (and a new school year), will result in many months of lost lessons.

These concerns have often proven secondary to the very real fears of parents, who may find themselves wondering where they stand legally, should they decide to keep their children away from school a little longer.

Some schools and teaching bodies have suggested a staggered return to ‘normality’, with social distancing rules rigidly in place. Yet this could do little to assuage the concerns of parents and guardians.

The legal question

Under current guidelines, it is possible for a parent to be prosecuted should they keep their child off school without just cause. An unauthorised absence for a holiday can have serious legal ramifications.  However, it should be noted that parents will not be fined if they choose to keep their children away from school during the Covid-19 outbreak. This has been made clear by the UK government, and should provide some reassurance to parents who are on the fence.

Numerous petitions and movements show the strength of feeling on this subject, and it appears that there is support for parents from teaching unions and schools themselves.

Parents who are separated should be aware that the parent with whom the child spends most of their time will have the greatest power when making decisions like this. While parents must consult one another on topics such as health and schooling, it will be the main custodian who is able to decide whether the child returns to school.

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Shaoli has been a solicitor at NLS for over two years, transitioning from a background in criminal law to full-time family law. Her experience as a Criminal Duty Solicitor has equipped her with unique skills that are invaluable in her current role.
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