Schools should be classed as “critical infrastructure” and not shut down if there is a second Covid-19 lockdown, a campaign group has said.
The Us for Them Scotland campaign suggested schools should be treated in the same way as hospitals and power stations so they can remain open – even if there are “isolated cases” of coronavirus in the building.
It has now written to Holyrood’s Education Committee on the issue, urging MSPs to make clear if schools can be classed as critical infrastructure to prevent “unnecessary closure”.
If not, the group wants the committee to raise the issue with the Scottish Government.
In the letter, Jo Bisset, of Us for Them, said: “We consider that schools should be deemed critical infrastructure in the way that hospitals and power stations are.
“Critical infrastructure are not be closed down in the case of isolated cases of Covid-19 on site.”
Ms Bisset added: “Can the Education Committee confirm that schools can be classified as critical infrastructure to stop the unnecessary closing of schools even on an isolated basis?
“If not, can the Education Committee ask the Scottish Government to pursue this?”
The Us for Them group was set up in response to concerns about the Scottish Government’s plans for schools to pursue blended learning after August – in which some pupils could spend as little as one day a week in the classroom, with children learning from home for the remainder.
While Education Secretary John Swinney announced in June it was ministers’ intention for all youngsters to return to full-time learning after August 11, the campaign body said a “clear strategy” is needed now for this to be achieved.
Ms Bisset said: “The time has come for the Scottish Government to make clear the exact plans for getting our children back to school normally and in full by August.
“We welcomed the commitment made two weeks ago but it won’t happen unless a clear strategy is in place.”
Mr Swinney has made clear schools could still have to use blended learning if Covid-19 makes it unsafe for all pupils to be in class every day.
Ms Bisset fears councils are waiting until July 30, when a final decision on the issue could be made, before pressing ahead with plans for a full-time return.
She said: “If schools are to reopen in full on August 11, they need to be preparing now.
“But our understanding is that many councils are waiting until July 30 for formal permission from the Scottish Government.
“That would not be sufficient time for teachers or parents to make this work, and children all over Scotland would suffer as a result. ”
She urged the Education Committee to take a lead on the issue and asked: “Has the Education Committee received assurances from the Education Secretary that councils and schools have been explicitly instructed to prepare now for a full return to school of all pupils on August 11?
“If not, will the Education Committee ask the Education Secretary when he plans to instruct councils and schools explicitly to prepare now for a full opening in August 11?”
A Scottish Parliament spokeswoman said: “The committee is closely monitoring the plans for reopening schools and plans to take evidence from the Scottish Government and local authority representatives during July so it can raise the views of parents, teachers and young people with them directly.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said ministers and councils are “planning for a full-time return to school in August”.
He said: “Getting back to school will require a huge joint effort.
“The main planning group, the Education Recovery Group, brings together the Scottish Government, councils, teachers’ representatives, parent bodies and trades unions.
“This group meets frequently, most recently on Monday this week, and will continue to work together to ensure that plans are developed collaboratively for a safe and smooth transition back to school for all children and young people in August.”
He added: “The health and safety of pupils, staff and others is of paramount importance.
“That is why the plan for a full-time return to schools is conditional on infection rates being sufficiently low to continue to suppress the virus, public health and testing systems being in place, risk assessments being carried out in schools and protective measures, including the use of PPE where appropriate, being in place and we are committed to supporting this process and to publishing the scientific evidence and public health advice that underpins our planning.”