My name is Lisa Diaz. I am 40 years old and from Wigan. I have a genetic blood clotting disorder, which makes me more at risk should I get sick with Covid-19. My two children are Alex (11) and Helena (8). I am just a normal mum without any scientific knowledge or expertise. I got two Bs at GCSE science – that’s the extent of my scientific qualifications. But you don’t need a PhD in epidemiology to see what is blatantly obvious: schools are not, nor have ever been covid safe.
Seeing the horrific scenes in March 2020 in Italy, and our own government’s failure to lock down sooner, I decided to remove Alex and Helena from their school on 10 March 2020. At first, there were no issues from either the school or Wigan Council. Soon after I took my kids out, we went into lockdown anyway and so both worked happily online with their classmates. No big issues.
September 2020: schools weren’t covid secure
However, when schools went back in September, the tone was very different. I was astonished to find out that there would be no meaningful mitigations in place. Having been told all summer to socially distance, suddenly it was thirty-odd bodies shoved into a classroom, sitting shoulder to shoulder.
I never bought the government line that, “children do not get or transmit covid”. Given that schools are hotbeds for everything else under the sun, from colds to headaches, it just didn’t ring true. There would be no masks, no social distancing and no adequate ventilation – all the recognised components to help stop the transmission of a novel virus.
Instead of looking to, and learning from, Asian Pacific countries such as Taiwan and Hong Kong, which seemed to get the virus under control quite quickly, we proceeded with complacent exceptionalism. Like somehow we could do things differently and ‘a stiff under lip’ and ‘taking it on the chin’ would somehow be enough. This was particularly true with schools …
For example, I remember asking the head teacher about masks for children. She replied that masks were not recommended for children under 12 but that children would, “all be facing forward”. I couldn’t believe it. Given that covid doesn’t just travel in a straight line and that children’s heads are not fixed, it didn’t strike me as the most fool-proof strategy.
I was staggered to hear that this was official Department for Education (DfE) advice on how to combat covid – along with one-way systems, wiping down tables and, of course, ‘catch it, kill it, bin it.’ What is it with this government and its meaningless three-part slogans?
Threatened with prosecution for keeping my kids safe
Given the lack of any effective mitigations, I decided to keep Alex and Helena learning safely from home. I sent multiple emails with reams of scientific evidence as to why I didn’t believe it was safe for them to return to school at this time. These were all ignored. Instead, on 3 September 2020, I was sent an email from the head teacher, which left me gobsmacked.
The email sent a link to Wigan Council, which stated that should I keep my children off school, I could be prosecuted, fined up to £2,500, given community service or sentenced to three months in jail. Nobody in their right mind would think this a fitting sentence for a vulnerable mum with an underlying health condition, trying to protect her family in the midst of a global pandemic.
I was called by ‘Early Help’ from Wigan ‘authorities’ and told over the phone again that this could all end with my “being prosecuted”. Bear in mind that my children have never had any attendance issues in the past, that I am a qualified teacher and that I sent a synopsis of their remote learning to the head teacher every single day. No work or lessons were ever provided by the school. How was this in their best interests?
Campaigning for covid-secure schools
I have spent the course of the pandemic fighting for our children’s right to a safe education. There is no other work place or indoor setting in which thirty-plus bodies would be crammed into a room without masks, distancing or adequate ventilation. Why are our children being subjected to these conditions?
I wrote to my then MP, Lisa Nandy, goodness knows how many times, I have written to every councillor in Wigan trying to highlight the issue, I have spoken at webinars and even stood outside the Cherry Gardens Pub Wigan (socially distanced and masked up) with a placard advocating safer schools. Together with other concerned parents, I have helped to found SafeEdForAll. We are doing whatever we can to try and get answers and raise awareness. It isn’t easy and we are mainly ignored.
Then a surprising breakthrough. I posted a short video on Twitter in August 2021, explaining my concerns, comparing the care I take with my own children to protect them in comparison to how they would be treated in a school setting. I called out the lies from Dr Jenny Harries that kids would more likely be hit by a bus than get covid and that “kids are not severely affected”. Some 1,153 children were hospitalised with covid in July 2021 in England alone, five of whom sadly died:
To my amazement, it went viral, now over 225k views. It has been retweeted by internationally esteemed scientists and epidemiologists such as Zoe Hyde in Australia, Eric Feigl-Ding in the USA and our own Deepti Gurdasani. I was blown away.
The power of social media
So I decided to make more. The second video, addressed to Gavin Williamson, asks why the DofE has done away with mandatory isolations. It doesn’t seem right that my child could be sat next a pupil whose parent or sibling is at home with Covid-19. “It’s almost as if you want us to spread it about” and infect our children as quickly as possible.
In the third video, I address more questions to Gavin Williamson about more dubious guidance for schools reopening in September. Apparently, school leaders are now only to reach out for help when 10 percent of the school population is infected with covid. I asked the health secretary if he could release the scientific evidence and modelling which accompanies these new guidelines as “otherwise people might just think it’s an arbitrary figure which was been plucked out of the air … and we wouldn’t want that would we?”
Also, assemblies are back on the cards. I asked him why he thinks it’s a good idea to cram 200 kids in a hall, shoulder to shoulder, without masks or ventilation … in a pandemic. To finish, I asked Boris Johnson if “kids in his old school Eton will be packed 30-plus into a poorly ventilated classroom or if it’s just the plebs’ kids like mine, who are being used in this hybrid immunity experiment”.
No answers as of yet … I shan’t hold my breath.
Yesterday I posted another to Keir ‘no if no buts’ Starmer. I expect the government not to care about me or my children. I expect more from the Labour Party. Their silence on schools being unsafe is deafening:
Covid risks to children
The unfettered reopening of schools in a couple of weeks will lead to a very high rate of infection and increased hospitalisation of children. You only need to glance across to the USA, to see what’s coming:
And in the words of my own MP, Rosie Cooper, “Delta has exploded the myth that children are somehow immune to covid”.
This is not a benign illness for children. That has always been a lie. We do not know the long-term effects; however, medics are already seeing cognitive impairment, damage to the respiratory track and the heart, as well as other serious multi-organ complications.
The government wants us to “live with covid”. I don’t understand what this means. Does this mean that we tolerate this high burden of illness and mortality forever? I do not understand the acceptance of that, especially not when it comes to children. We do not refuse to put seat belts on children to mitigate the consequences of a car crash, so why do we refuse to mitigate the risks of an airborne pathogen of unknown long-term effects?
Keeping my own children safe – at home
Given all this, I am swaying towards keeping Alex and Helena learning from home until they are fully vaccinated. I desperately want them to be in school. They want to be in school. I am gutted, as my son Alex is meant to be starting high school this time. But how can I send them into school when it’s not safe? As I said in my first video, “Just like I wouldn’t send my children into a burning building, nor will I send them into an environment highly conducive to the spread of Covid-19”.
I know children personally who have been badly affected with long covid; they are still sick months after. Who knows if they will ever get better? It affects around one in ten children – a similar rate to adults. I will not play Russian roulette with my children’s health. Nor should I have to. The government is failing abysmally to safeguard the welfare of a generation and the opposition is failing to call this out.
Taking a stand
Now, I am bracing myself for another battle with the schools and Wigan local authority. I have emailed the assistant director of education and told her that I will not deregister my children from school. If they fine me, I will not pay; they will have to take me to court.
Head teachers have discretion to authorise absence and should be using it. If school being unsafe in a pandemic isn’t an exceptional circumstance, then I don’t know what is. I hope that head teachers are encouraged to empathise.
However, if Wigan Council want to make a martyr out of a vulnerable mum with a genetic blood clotting disorder for following the science and protecting her family, then so be it.