Primary school which lost support assistant to Covid is forced to shut completely for a second time

A primary school in Bispham, which lost a worker to Covid in November, has closed completely for a second time.
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Moor Park Primary School's headteacher Joanne Magson said classes - due to be open for children of key workers, and vulnerable youngsters - would remain empty all this week due to an unspecified number of confirmed cases amongst staff.

She said in a letter to parents: "This means due to the current staffing capacity we will not be able to open school safely.

"All learning will be delivered remotely.

The procession for Cath Strangwood went past Moor Park Primary School, in Moor Park Avenue, Bispham, where she was a support assistant for decades, on the day of her funeralThe procession for Cath Strangwood went past Moor Park Primary School, in Moor Park Avenue, Bispham, where she was a support assistant for decades, on the day of her funeral
The procession for Cath Strangwood went past Moor Park Primary School, in Moor Park Avenue, Bispham, where she was a support assistant for decades, on the day of her funeral
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"We are truly sorry for the inconvenience this causes to you and your family but our main priority at this time has to be the health and safety of all members of our school community."

One mum said: "The letter reads as if it's more than one member of staff, but don't forget Bozza said schools are safe."

Seven workers, including support assistant Cath Strangwood, 57, fell ill following an earlier outbreak in October, which also sparked a week-long closure at the Moor Park Avenue school, which has around 420 pupils aged up to 11.

Mrs Strangwood, who was described as a cherished colleague and loving and devoted wife, mum, and grandmother, died at Blackpool Victoria Hospital on November 28 while holding husband Andrew and daughter Amy's hands.

Mrs Stangwood was a cherished colleague and a much-loved wife, mum, and grandmotherMrs Stangwood was a cherished colleague and a much-loved wife, mum, and grandmother
Mrs Stangwood was a cherished colleague and a much-loved wife, mum, and grandmother
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It came after Michael Haigh, 60, a site supervisor at Christ the King, St Mary's, and St Cuthbert's academies in Blackpool, also died after testing positive for the coronavirus.

At least a dozen local schools were forced to send children and teachers into self-isolation between September, when all pupils returned to class, and December, when they broke up for Christmas.

The latest lockdown, which saw most pupils sent home after just one day in school following the festive break, again means it is just key workers' children and those deemed to be vulnerable being taught face-to-face, with the rest expected to learn remotely.

After Moor Park closed for the first time, the resort's director of public health said he agreed with the Government's decision to keep schools open during the second national lockdown, which took place in November.

Michael Haigh, a site supervisor at three Blackpool schools, also died after testing positive for CovidMichael Haigh, a site supervisor at three Blackpool schools, also died after testing positive for Covid
Michael Haigh, a site supervisor at three Blackpool schools, also died after testing positive for Covid
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Dr Arif Rajpura, who in September ordered headteachers to send youngsters home to be tested for Covid even if they show unofficial mild symptoms such as tiredness or a headache, said: "Considering the detrimental impact of being away from the education system, as well as the low risk of Covid-19 to young people, school is absolutely the best place for children to be.”

While some headteachers echoed a council PR campaign, which coincided with the new academic year in September and moved to reassure parents that schools are safe, Mrs Magson had earlier warned in a frank admission it would be impossible to guarantee children would not be exposed to the virus.

While "robust and vigilant" plans were drawn up, she added: "I am unable to guarantee that social distancing measures will always be possible."

More recently, Prime Minister Boris Johnson was criticised for saying "there is no doubt in my mind that schools are safe" on January 3, just one day before closing them and admitting they are "vectors for transmission, causing the virus to spread between households".

Dr Arif Rajpura, Blackpool's director of public healthDr Arif Rajpura, Blackpool's director of public health
Dr Arif Rajpura, Blackpool's director of public health
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Children are less likely to fall seriously ill or die from Covid, though concerns have been repeatedly raised about the potential for youngsters to pass the bug on to more vulnerable family members.

Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi said this morning the UK's vaccination programme will reduce the number of deaths and serious illnesses by late February, allowing restrictions to be "gradually" lifted - and schools to fully reopen.

He said: "There is some really good early data from Israel, where they have vaccinated 20 per cent of the over-60s and they are beginning to see, two weeks later, a marked reduction in the serious illness and death in that same cohort.

"So, two weeks after mid-February, we should be seeing a marked reduction in death and of course serious illness.

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"We begin to gradually reopen and schools will be a priority - the Prime Minister ... was desperate to keep them open and as a last resort we had to close them (and) he wants them first back."

Last week, Public Health England data showed 31 suspected outbreaks in educational settings in the seven days to January 10, with 18 in eateries, 977 in care homes, 243 in workplaces, and 78 in hospitals.

Moor Park Primary School, in Moor Park Avenue, Bispham, this morningMoor Park Primary School, in Moor Park Avenue, Bispham, this morning
Moor Park Primary School, in Moor Park Avenue, Bispham, this morning

The Children’s Task and Finish Group, which reports to the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), published a report in December when schools were fully open saying “accumulating evidence is consistent with increased transmission occurring amongst school children when schools are open, particularly in children of secondary school age”.

It said it was “difficult to quantify the size of this effect, and it remains difficult to quantify the level of transmission taking place specifically within schools compared to other settings”.

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A separate Schools Infection Study from Public Health England, the Office for National Statistics and the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, also published in December, found there were similar levels of infection in schools as in the community.

Teachers and pupils from 105 primary and secondary schools were tested at the peak of the second wave in November when they did not have any coronavirus symptoms – which means they were tracked in a normal daily school environment.

The findings showed that 1.24 per cent of pupils and 1.29 per cent of staff overall tested positive for current infection – similar to the 1.2 per cent reported in the community.

Mass rapid testing was trialled at Moor Park following Mrs Strangwood's death, with some pupils in Year Four sent home after a positive result.

Mrs Magson has been contacted for a comment.

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Dr Rajpura, in a statement issued through the council's press office, said: "We remain in close contact with senior leaders at the school and are offering support via our Outbreak Management Hub.

"As has been the case since before schools reopened for the autumn term, we are in ongoing consultation with all educational settings to mitigate the risks and ensure measures are being met.

"Schools are extremely appreciative of the support that we have been able to offer.

"Given the increase in cases right across Lancashire, positive cases are to be expected in schools from time to time.

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"We understand that some parents or carers may be concerned, however this is not cause for alarm.

"All schools are well aware of the approach to take should any positive cases occur.

"Each preventative measure taken will help us to reduce the risk of additional cases occurring.

"As ever, we remind anyone who has symptoms of Covid-19 to self-isolate and book a test."

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