Parents shielding from Covid-19 say they are “extremely scared” of the medical risks posed by their children returning to school.
Plans for the return of schools have been drawn up by each of the UK’s devolved nations, but have included strict hygiene policies and advice to limit student contact through staggered class times.
Sophie Jones-Cooper, 41, from Cheltenham, is classed as extremely vulnerable due to having Crohn’s disease and says she may need to distance herself from her children when schools in England return in September.
She has twins due to start reception and a seven-year-old son moving into Year 3, who have not seen any other children during the pandemic due to her need to shield.
“I want them to go to school for their sanity and mental health, but I’m also extremely scared,” the personal shopper and business owner told the PA news agency.
“We’ve had this realisation this is going to happen and what new safety measures we are going to have to put in place.
“I’m probably going to have to distance myself at home more… I imagine I might be quite neurotic about getting them out of their clothes when they get home and washing their hands.
“It’s just so hard and I don’t want to make them scared.”
Mrs Jones-Cooper heard from the school via email that it will not be socially distancing in class, but that there will be staggered class times.
Government guidelines in England say schools should consider the concerns of “pupils, parents and households who may be reluctant or anxious about returning” and offer support to address this.
They also state that for children who are not able to attend school “as parents are following clinical and/or public health advice”, absences will not be penalised.
However, according to public health advice in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland, clinically extremely vulnerable people no longer need to shield due to lower rates of coronavirus transmission.
In Wales, similar legislation comes into effect on August 16.
Natasha Doherty, a mother-of-three from Dungannon in Northern Ireland, has asthma and has been shielding during lockdown.
She said that her children’s schools have been “amazing” and have regularly checked in with her during lockdown, but remains concerned that her children could bring home the virus and cause her serious harm when they go back next month.
She told PA: “I would get ill quite a lot during the year without Covid so the thought of kids going to school straight back full-time definitely makes me very nervous.”
She added: “I’m worried because I feel they have had since March to come up with a plan for a safe return but to be honest nothing seems to be different.
“My daughter will travel on a completely packed bus with kids from all different schools so the social bubble or social distancing won’t exist. Also, they don’t have to wear masks on the transport.”
While the UK Government has described the risk of to children as “low”, parents of at-risk pupils remain concerned for their children’s health.
Lucy (not her real name) from Lanarkshire has been shielding with her 14-year-old son, who has asthma and adrenal insufficiency which has often caused him to panic when people get too close.
She told PA she was also concerned about the journey to and from school as pupils in Scotland return this week.
“I am unsure how it will be possible,” she said.
“They have stated they need to social distance at the bus stop, this will be impossible with teenagers.
“They also don’t need to wear a face mask as it’s part of the ‘school estate’ – this is probably one of the things we are worrying most about, as teachers won’t be there to control it.
“They also said kids should sit on same seat, which seems impossible.”
She added that she had “not really heard much” from her son’s school about how shielding students would be kept safe.
However, she believes it will be good for his mental health to return and see his friends after a long period stuck at home.
“I believe they need to return to school, but the practicalities of it all is what we worry about,” she said.