A MUM whose five children with learning and health disabilities haven’t attended school for seven months has said she will only send them back once a Covid-19 vaccine is available.
Jodie Frankum, 39, from Didcot in Oxfordshire, believes the school environment isn’t safe due to a lack of social distancing – and she is taking the measure to "protect her family".
It is against the law to withhold your child from school, except for a small number of exceptions, with Education Secretary Gavin Williamson calling it “a national priority” for kids to return to their classrooms.
A study by Cambridge University found the risk to children from the virus is extremely low – and they were more likely to be struck by lightening than die from coronavirus.
Just two children aged five to 14 have died from Covid-19 in England and Wales, which is equivalent to one in every 3.58 million in that age group.
Jodie, whose five "vulnerable" children go to four different schools, said she has received little support, especially from one school that has demanded she call everyday to report her child as absent or they will report her to the police.
Brendon, 15, Leah, 13, Tye, eight, Kacey, eight, and Tommy, seven, have been kept at home since schools first shut in March – and she now dedicates four hours a day to homeschooling them.
Mum Jodie, who suffers with anxiety and mental health issues, doesn’t want to de-register her children and homeschool them full time – as she wants them to return to school when there is a Covid-19 vaccine.
Jodie said: "I don't want to send my children back to school until a vaccine is available.
I don't want to send my children back to school until a vaccine is available. It is not safe. All I'm doing is protecting my family
"It’s disgusting that the schools and the government are threatening to fine parents who keep their children off school in the current climate; my children’s health is more important to me.
"I have refused to return the kids as I think it’s terrible how schools are not socially distancing.
"At school, they have huge bubbles and they also let kids attend with coughs, colds and temperatures without asking them to be tested for coronavirus. It is not safe. All I'm doing is protecting my family."
Jodie’s 15-year-old son Brendon suffers from anxiety, OCD and learning disabilities while her eldest daughter Leah has asthma, learning disabilities and is under assessment for autism.
Eight-year-old Tye is deaf, and has autism, ADHD and a bowel condition, Kacey suffers with asthma and hyper mobility while Tommy has autism, learning disabilities, asthma and respiratory issues.
Jodie explained that each one of the four schools her five children go to is handling their situation differently.
She said: "Fitzwarren school has been very supportive with all my concerns and they are amazing.
If I don't call New Marston every day to report my child as absent then it’s possible for them to send the police to me for a missing child
"Willow Croft school is supportive but I worry as there are lots of children being allowed to go in with coughs and temperatures.
"New Marston school is on amber alert, they have no social distance bubbles and they have sent letters threatening to fine me if I don’t send my child back.
"Schools are basically threatening me with penalty fines if I don't send my children to school.
"If I don't call New Marston every day to report my child as absent then it’s possible for them to send the police to me for a missing child.
"It is not safe with the number of cases going up and my children don't feel comfortable or safe to be made to go back to school."
Jodie insists she is just "protecting her family" and believes her children’s health and complex needs are more important than them returning to school.
New Marston school is also reportedly threatening to call social services, the police and the county council – following procedures for a missing child – if Jodie doesn’t report every absence.
She said: "I do homeschool with my children; we focus on main life skills as my children have special needs.
"We also do reading, written work and some maths. We use tablets and laptops with lots of different resources to help them out with their learning.
"I'm level 1 BSL and looking to do some more BSL language so I can help my deaf son as much as I can.
"I am always asking for work packs for my children too."
Jodie said Willow Croft school have been extremely supportive and loaned work as well as a laptop while Fitzwarren school are planning to send her a laptop home too.
But she claimed New Marston school "are not helping" with homeschooling as she refuses to send her child into the school and she is particularly concerned as Oxford is on "red alert".
She said homeschooling can be difficult to manage but she has been doing this with her five children since March.
The mum added: "I work with all of them together and also individually as they are all at different age groups in their learning.
"We do two hours of work in the morning and two hours of work in the afternoon as well as calming time therapy.
"Keeping the children’s wellbeing and mental health in a good place is also important so they are happy, healthy and calm at all times."
The law on sending your kids back to school during coronavirus
It is against the law to withhold your child from school, except for a small number of exceptions.
Parents who refuse to send their kids to school could be hit with fines, starting at £60, which could hike to £2,500 or lead to prosecution if left unpaid.
Children who are particularly vulnerable to coronavirus and those who have compromised immune systems are exempt from mandatory school attendance.
Speaking ahead of schools reopening in September, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson called it “a national priority” for children to be returning to their classrooms.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “It is far more damaging for a child’s development and their health and wellbeing to be away from school any longer.”
Schools have also introduced measures to keep children safe – including staggered start times, hand washing, one way systems and wearing masks in the public areas.
Parents are allowed to take their kids out of school for homeschooling, but the school can reject your request if it's only on a temporary basis.
Explaining the issues she is facing with school enrolment, Jodie explained that Kacey’s place at Willow Croft is being "held" because they are understanding.
She also insisted Fitzwaryn school is holding Tommy and Brendon’s places as she hasn’t been made to feel like she needs to derole them.
But she has had to derole Leah from Aureus school as they said elective home schooling couldn’t be a temporary measure.
Jodie is also having to look at different options for Tye as New Marston primary school is insisting Jodie reports him as absent every day.
A spokesperson for Willowcroft community school said: "Although we cannot comment on individual families, we are keen for all children to return to school, in line with government advice and we are doing all we can to ensure that the school is as Covid safe as possible.
"We appreciate that families have differing circumstances and some have anxiety about their children's return. We keep in touch with our families, provide support and try to alleviate their fears."
A spokesman for Aureus School commented: "Current government guidance for school and parental responsibility is that students are expected to attend school."
A spokesperson for Fitzwaryn School said: "The Propeller Academy Trust or any of its schools, does not comment on any individual children or families matters, to ensure our safeguarding and privacy procedures are adhered to at all times."
New Marston Primary School have been approached for comment.
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