School hit by coronavirus outbreak will not fully re-open for two weeks - as 50 staff tested
PUBLISHED: 16:36 08 September 2020 | UPDATED: 10:11 09 September 2020
A high school will not fully re-open for a fortnight after eight teaching staff contracted coronavirus, with more than 50 employees having tests over the past few days.
Andy Hunter, headteacher at Samuel Ward Academy in Haverhill, said all of the staff affected are learning support assistants, and the school cannot be sure where they sat in lessons and so three full classes and two groups of pupils – around 130 students in total – have been asked to self-isolate. There will be no learning support in any lessons over the next two weeks.
Students and staff are also being advised to wear face masks in public area, such as corridors, stairwells, toilets and washrooms, sixth form study rooms, changing rooms and canteen queues, until half-term. They will not be worn in lessons unless pupils have a specific medical reason to wear one.
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No pupils have tested positive and Mr Hunter said he is “hopeful” there has been no onward transmission to students. But due to a “significant” number of teachers self-isolating, the 1,276-pupil school will not be able to re-open fully until September 21, he added.
Parents have taken to social media to express their concerns over the situation, with some planning to keep their children off school.
“Please accept my deepest apologies for this very disrupted start to the school year,” Mr Hunter wrote in a letter to parents.
“We had high hopes for the return to school and I know I speak for the entire staff when I say we are extremely disappointed to find ourselves in the position we are now in.
“I hope I have been able to reassure you that we acted swiftly and effectively to control this outbreak and that the additional measures we have put in place will substantially reduce the chances of another one.”
Until September 21, the school will be operating a rota system which will see years 9, 11, 12 and 13 attend this week and the remaining years come into school the following week. While at home, students will have work set for them.
In the wake of the outbreak, the school is also planning to step up efforts to fight the virus by banning large-scale gatherings - such as staff meetings and assemblies. Social distancing is also being increased for staff.
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Bosses at the academy first became aware of a staff member having symptoms during a staff training day held on Wednesday last week. That employee went home to self-isolate, and tested positive on Friday. By Monday, eight staff members had contracted the virus.
Movements of staff who tested positive have been tracked by public health officials to identify their contacts around the school, bosses said.
All employees who came into contact with infected cases have had to isolate and test, though the school has chosen not to test all staff, as Public Health England has stated there is no need to do so.
All areas visited by positive cases have been “fogged” by professional cleaners and the school has been cleaned again this week, with special attention given to door handles, light switches, banisters and sanitiser dispensers.
PHE gave the school the all-clear to re-open again on Monday afternoon, though school bosses decided against this as a number of staff were awaiting test results.
Mr Hunter added: “This is going to be a difficult year for all of us. We will continue to do our very best to provide the best education we can while keeping everyone as safe as we can.”
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Stuart Keeble, Suffolk’s public health director, told the first public Covid-19 outbreak meeting this afternoon that the outbreak at Samuel Ward had seen the county’s local outbreak plan “kick in really well”, with children and staff getting tested quickly.
Health secretary Matt Hancock, who is also MP for the area, thanked public health teams and the school for their efforts this morning. He said the outbreak was “clearly worrying for everyone” but confident the academy had “robust and effective” measures in place.
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