A special school is being forced to shut its doors until next year due to the devastating impact of Covid-19.
Meadowfield School in Sittingbourne has been left without just under half of its 235 members of staff who help care for its 375 pupils with autism, learning difficulties and different physical and medical needs.
Due to the close contact and specialities of the staff members, as well as class bubbles, it hasn't been possible to replace with them with other teachers or agency staff and it has been left with no choice but to close.
Principal Jill Palmer explained to parents on Monday the Swanstree Avenue site would be closing from today until Monday, January 4.
She said: "Sadly, we are all aware of the very high and increasing levels of infection in our local community and this has had a huge impact upon school.
"Despite this, staff have done an incredible job of ensuring pupils in school are safe, happy and engaged in learning.
"However, due to the very high levels of Covid-related staff absence, increasing rates of infection both in school and the local community as well as associated health and safety risks, Meadowfield School will be closed from Thursday, December 3 and will reopen on Monday, January 4, 2021."
'The decision was necessary in order to help protect the health of our school community...'
The school has been open for the first half of the week but Ms Palmer told parents they wouldn't be penalised if they thought it was safer for their children to remain at home.
She added: "The decision to close was difficult, however I believe it is in the best interests of the entire school community.
"I realise this will have a significant impact on many families, however the decision was necessary in order to help protect the health of our school community of more than 600 pupils and staff."
From today, pupils eligible for free school meals will be provided vouchers, teachers will provide home learning, office staff will working remotely and parents are being asked to inform the school if any children receive positive tests during the closure.
Ms Palmer, who has thanked parents for their positive messages in these hard times, also appealed for donations to the school's Meadowfield Giving Tree which will allow every child to receive a gift to celebrate the new year.
It comes days after an Ofsted report revealed children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) were hit hardest by lockdown.
The report detailed how with limited social contact and access to support services, many children with SEND who do not communicate verbally have seen their communication skills regress in lockdown.
Stephen Long, Ofsted’s director for the south east, said: "Across all age groups, children with special education needs and disabilities have been seriously affected in both their care and education, as the services that families relied on – particularly speech and language services – were unavailable."