Redbridge Tory slams council leader over schools statement

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The leader of Redbridge Conservatives has criticised the council leader over his statement on schools reopening.

Council leader Jas Athwal stated in a letter on May 18 that he “will not support the opening of Redbridge schools” until “processes are in place to keep local children and teachers safe”.

Cllr Linda Huggett (Monkhams) said the letter was “not a council decision” and criticised him for failing to consult the wider council before making his statement.

She said: “He is not the leader of the Labour Party, no council meeting was held to agree his statement and he did not consult our group over the comments he has publicly made.

“It is such an important and emotive issue and as a council we are all supposed to be working together for the benefit of our whole community in these worrying times. This unfortunately is not happening.”

She added: “Education is vitally important and that is why the Government’s ambition is to open schools on June 1.

“We will be listening to our teachers and parents’ views and support their decision.

“They have the freedom to choose what they think is best for the health and wellbeing of the children and teaching staff and we respect their right to do this.”

The Government will announce its final decision today as to whether primary schools will be expected to reopen for nursery, reception and years 1 and 6 on June 1.

On May 18, leader Cllr Jas Athwal wrote: “I will continue to work closely with Redbridge parents, teachers and unions to make sure the wellbeing of school staff and children is protected at all times.

“If schools do open as planned I will make sure no parent is fined for their child’s non-attendance until we reach a period of normality.

“Teachers and headteachers should not be penalised if they cannot work or feel their schools are not ready to reopen.”

Nine education and teachers’ unions have expressed concern about the plan, stating that though young children are less at risk from the disease they could still spread it to others.

A council spokesperson responding to Cllr Huggett’s criticism said Cllr Athwal and Cllr Huggett had released a joint statement on March 31.

The statement reads: “As councillors, we will make sure that vital local services can continue.

“This includes the rubbish collections, advice for local businesses, schools for those that need them and ongoing support to our elderly and vulnerable. All our councillors are still working to support their local communities.

“Regardless of political party affiliation, we are local residents first and we are committed to supporting our neighbours across Redbridge. Together we will get through this difficult time, as one community.”

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Victoria Munro

Local Democracy Reporter