Education bosses have been warned some families may be flouting quarantine rules by sending their children back to school immediately after visiting countries at high risk from coronavirus.
Scotland’s national clinical director, Jason Leitch, has joined the chief medical officer and chief nursing officer in writing to the directors of education at local authorities across the country in a bid to remind parents and schools of their responsibilities.
It comes after the Scottish Government was informed by public health directors about “a number of cases” of children and young people attending school after recently returning from countries not exempt from quarantine rules.
Health officials are also concerned about parents ignoring social distancing advice to meet up at the school gates, and youngsters gathering in large groups at home.
It is understood Scotland’s 32 local authorities were contacted last week and asked to share guidance that children returning from a country on the quarantine list should not return to school for at least 14 days.
Returning from a country that’s on the quarantine list?
Please do not send your children to school until they have completed the 14 days quarantine period.
— Angus Council (@AngusCouncil) August 17, 2020
Mr Leitch said: “The Scottish Government has been informed by our directors of public health about a number of cases of children and young people being in school after recently returning from countries not exempt from quarantine rules.
“I must remind you that the law requires everyone returning to Scotland from non-exempt countries to self-isolate at home for 14 days. This includes children as well as adults. People self-isolating should not go out to work or to school or visit public areas.
“Scotland’s directors of education will be speaking to head teachers and heads of early learning and childcare settings today to ensure this is made clear to parents, children and young people.”
Mr Leitch said the list of exempted countries can change at short notice, with both France and the Netherlands removed in the last few days.
He added: “We are also concerned about people meeting up outside school settings in larger groups. This includes parents gathering at school gates, young people meeting friends without following the guidance on physical distancing.
“Crucially, everyone 12 and over must physically distance from everyone outside their own household. People are running the risk of spreading the virus to each other, their families and their loved ones.”
The warning comes less than a week after children returned to school in Scotland, with new cases of coronavirus already being recorded among secondary pupils.
It emerged on Sunday that a youngster at Bannerman High in Baillieston had tested positive after attending classes last week, while several others with the virus had already been self-isolating prior to the return.
Five pupils at nearby schools in North Lanarkshire have also tested positive.
Mr Leitch voiced his concerns as Nicola Sturgeon pledged guidance on whether older pupils will be required to wear face coverings inside school will be kept under review by the Scottish Government.
The first minister, asked about the issue during the coronavirus briefing on Monday, said guidance “makes clear if young people or staff in a school want to wear face coverings they should be supported and empowered to do that”.
She added: “Whether we should go further and change the advice on face coverings is one of these aspects that we will keep under review.”
Larry Flanagan, general secretary of the EIS teaching union, said recommendations for senior pupils to wear face coverings in areas where physical distancing is not possible is “important if schools are to operate safely”.
He said: “The cases of Covid infection that have been identified in some young people highlight the critical nature of adequate safeguards to protect pupils and staff from potential Covid infection at school.
“Introducing the option for all teachers to access testing was an important step but other measures, such as reducing class sizes to facilitate physical distancing, are required as a matter of urgency.
“In particular, a recommendation for senior phase pupils, who are young adults, to wear face coverings where physical distancing is not possible is important if schools are to operate safely.”