2. Essential Travel Only

School closing slowly became inevitable.  As we all watched the news across Europe and realised that Italy, Spain and other countries had been completely caught by surprise by the Coronavirus, with lockdown having to follow very, very quickly, calls for school closures started to get louder and louder, as more and more people pointed out that children are essentially little balls of germs only too willing to share with others.  We knew it was coming; it was when rather than if.

I knew that it was probable but didn’t give it too much thought for a few weeks.  I honestly thought the kids were fairly remote from the virus madness, because they were in schools that are in sleepy little villages.  That was until my 11-year-old son came home and told me ‘wish I was in the 6th form’.  Only half listening, I asked why was that.  ‘Because they’ve all gone to Rome today’.  ‘What? How do you know that?’  ‘Instagram of course.’.  And that was the first thing I knew about it.

I don’t do Instagram (not enough hours in my day) but I did check the school Facebook page and low and behold, their they all were, on the plane to Rome looking happy and excited, with us all being told ‘they had chosen to go’. I’m pretty sure that this was within hours of the Foreign Office declaring the whole of Italy a no-go zone. 

I watched as comment after comment was posted on the school Facebook page, questioning the wisdom of allowing 16 and 17 year olds to go to what had just been designated the most virally dangerous country in Europe.  The arguments seemed to be that it was perfectly safe, given that it was only the north of the country under lockdown, not Rome in the south.  The reality, I am sure, is that the reason the trip went ahead was for a financial reason; the travel company wouldn’t cancel it, the school then also refused to (if they did the parents could have claimed their costs from the school) and so parents felt they were stuck between a rock and a hard place.

My own view was that it was ridiculous to have allowed a large bunch of teenagers, some of whom will have been on a mission to swap their bodily fluids with either each other or random like-minded Italian teenagers, to go on what was essentially a holiday, dressed up as an educational trip, to a country that was clearly in trouble.  But, maybe I was blowing it out of all proportion (it has been known occasionally)? I am part of a private Year 7 Facebook group, for parents to share information (mostly about homework and school trips).  There had already been questions posted on there about hygiene and hand washing in school. I decided to see what the other parents thought.  Maybe I was wrong, neurotic and badly informed?

They had similar thoughts and told me so.  Feeling a bit better about my sanity levels, I decided what I was going to do next.  There was no point complaining to the school – I’ve done that before and have just been confronted by the usual bureaucratic rubbish that they seem to delight in churning out in the hope that you will just shut up and go away.  

I needn’t have worried.  The next day the story was all over our town’s social media and the local paper had taken it up.  Un-named sources had been in touch with the paper.  There was uproar.  By lunchtime the school had released a letter, confirming that those on the Rome trip would be asked to self-isolate for 14 days on their return home.  We breathed a sigh of relief that life would return to normal and that the virus would not be coming here.

However, a day later, over the weekend, the parents of those children were emailed by the school again to say that this was not the case, that all they had to do was stay home on the Monday.  Whatever happened next (presumably even more outrage), by Monday we were informed again that those children and their teachers would not be in school for 14 days.

There is a footnote to this story.  A week later the administrator who runs the Facebook group I am part of got a phone call from the PA to the Head Teacher of the school.  Apparently, the PA insisted that the page was taken down with immediate effect because the school thought that it was a parent who was part of our group that had informed the local paper of the story.  To her credit, the administrator refused (and quite rightly so) but did remove the name of the school from the page.    The school’s action in doing this was wholly unacceptable and frankly unenforceable.  To try to conduct some form of a witch hunt of this nature was just wrong.  No school can stop you from discussing matters or putting information into the public domain if justified.  I am reminded however of how you only really see the true colours of any person when they are under pressure and stress.  In light of that, I think the actions of the Head Teacher here tell us an awful lot about what she considers leadership to be.

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