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Lockdown & parental disputes over school

We can't agree on whether our child should still go to school, what can we do?

Although a second lockdown comes into force this week, there are some differences in the restrictions being imposed this time round. One of them being that children can still attend school. However, the current situation and uncertainty – coupled with the fact that there are reports of teachers calling for schools to close during lockdown – can cause high levels of stress and anxiety. People will often have differing opinions on the level of social distancing that they feel comfortable with, and whilst you can make your own decisions, within guidelines, for yourself, when it comes to your child, both parents have to decide what course should be followed (assuming both parents have parental responsibility). This can cause tensions to rise between you, especially if one of you feels that your child should attend school, and the other doesn’t. We know that, at the time of writing, the Government are still encouraging children to go to school, but what can you do if you are unsure whether this is the right course of action for your child?

The definition of those people who are vulnerable has changed over time. Indeed, in this second lockdown, the talk of shielding has been minimal. It is recommended, therefore, that the first step should be to look at the current guidance on whether your child falls into a vulnerable category. If they do, then the answer as to whether they should keep going to school or not at the current time may well be clear.

Similarly, if your child is living in the same household as someone who is clinically vulnerable, then the Government guidelines will provide up-to-date details on what other members of the household should be doing.

If looking at the definitions of those who are vulnerable do not assist, then it is a case of addressing the worries and concerns of each of you and trying to create understanding of the other parent’s point of view. Mediation can be an excellent forum to talk about worries in relation to children.

Mediation

A Family Mediator is an independent, neutral person who will assist the two of you in discussing your concerns and trying to understand the worries that you each have and in so doing endeavour to help the two of you to reach agreement. Mediation can be undertaken online. It can be very beneficial in giving each of you the chance to say how you feel about the matter in a safe space, and the Mediator will try to assist each of you in understanding the others point of view. The Mediator can draw up a written plan confirming what the two of you propose, although any such agreement is not legally binding unless an order of the Court is made.

Court application for Specific Issue Order

If discussions fail to resolve the issue, then either one of you can make an application to the Court under section 8 of the Children Act 1989 for a Specific Issue Order. The ‘issue’ that you’ll be asking the Court to resolve is whether or not your child should continue attending school at this stage and, if not, when your child should return.  The Court will usually first try to see if the case can be resolved by agreement and if not, after preliminary hearings, your matter will be listed for a Final Hearing when a Judge will make a decision on the matter.

Summary

It is worth noting that both mediation and an application to the Court are likely to take a notable amount of time and will not be quick fixes. Given that it is unknown at present how long the second lockdown is likely to last, the best and most expedient way to try and resolve any concerns is to talk to the other parent along with your child’s school so that you can agree a way forward together.

If you would like to talk through the process of making an application to the Court further, then please contact us .

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