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Parents at Highsted Grammar School, Sittingbourne, say they face 'unauthorised absence' threat for keeping children at home after latest Covid-19 case

Parents at a girls grammar school, where a case of coronavirus has been confirmed, say they have been threatened with 'unauthorised absence' if they keep their children at home after not all pupils in the 'bubble' were sent home.

A Year 8 pupil tested positive at Highsted Grammar, Sittingbourne with school managers saying the 'explicit' instructions of Public Health England were followed.

Stock photo of Highsted Grammar School Picture: John Westhrop
Stock photo of Highsted Grammar School Picture: John Westhrop

Parents say only the girl's immediate 'friendship circle' in Year 8 was sent home, leaving eight classmates to continue with lessons. Those who wanted to take their children out of school for safety reasons say the school then told them it would be classed as two weeks of unauthorised absence, a situation which could also lead to fines.

One mother said: "The girls were in the morning French lesson when a member of the school’s management team arrived with a piece of string and appeared to take measurements.

"She returned before the start of the maths lesson with a list of nine names of students who were told to pack up their things immediately and were moved to another class without any explanation.

"The remainder of the class were then transferred to the PE pod and their parents were contacted to collect them.

"Another girl from the first group was subsequently removed and sent home to self-isolate leaving eight pupils behind. The girls only found out what had happened via messages from those who had left and not from a member of Highsted staff."

Highsted Grammar School. Picture: John Westhrop
Highsted Grammar School. Picture: John Westhrop

She added: "We are very disappointed with how the school has handled this. It only added to the climate of fear and uncertainty. We just want the school to be open and upfront without all this cloak and dagger secrecy."

She said the first she heard of the incident was a text from her worried daughter and then a social media post from another parent. She added: "The school should be reminding parents what to do if they suspect their children have coronavirus."

The incident happened on Wednesday.

Another worried parent said she had heard the pupil's friendship circle of girls she sits near had been sent home but not the whole class or her year bubble.

She added: "The school told parents, who are concerned that the girls all mix at break times and at Friday morning assemblies, that this was on the advice of Public Health England.

Hightsed Grammar School, Sittingbourne. Picture: Andy Payton
Hightsed Grammar School, Sittingbourne. Picture: Andy Payton

"Anyone else in the school who takes their child out will be given two weeks of unauthorised absence."

In a letter home to parents the school said: "Please be advised the school has been informed by Public Health England that a number of our pupils have been in contact with a pupil that has tested positive for Covid-19 therefore we have followed the explicit direction of Public Health England with regards to this matter."

"All relevant parents and carers have been contacted via parent mail and telephone and this happened on Wednesday.

"Please be re-assured that only in circumstances where Public Health England has informed the school that your child needs to self-isolate will you receive direct notification from the school setting our the appropriate steps that you need to take."

Head teacher Anne Kelly said: “The school was notified on Wednesday that a child in Year 8 had tested positive for Covid-19. "Consequently, children have been sent home where necessary to self-isolate in line with Public Health England’s direction at this time.

"The school will continue to follow Public Health England guidance as the safety of all our staff and pupils is paramount.”

The school in Highsted Road has 900 pupils aged 11 to 18 who come from Sittingbourne, Sheppey and surrounding areas. The affected Year 8 girls aged 12 to 13 must now isolate for 14 days.

It's the second time children have been sent home to self-isolate, earlier this month, staff wrote to parents to say they had been alerted by Public Health England (PHE) that some youngsters had been among a child who has received a Covid-19 positive test.

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