Conservative MP Robert Halfon’s collective immunity bill seeks to prevent school closures during pandemic

Seventh graders are urged to distance themselves socially when they arrive for their first day at Kingsdale Foundation School in London on Thursday, September 3, 2020. AP Photo / Kirsty Wigglesworth)

MP Robert Halfon, the Conservative chairman of the Commons Education Committee, introduced a “triple lockdown” bill to prevent a future school lockdown.

The legislation would officially classify schools as “critical infrastructure,” keeping them open during any national emergency, including a public health crisis. Any school lockdown, especially linked to the pandemic, would require ministers to first consult with the children’s commissioner, then debate and vote on the issue in parliament, and then renew the decision in parliament every three weeks .

The bill passed its unopposed first reading on November 3 and received the open support of a dozen MPs, including Tory right-wing Sir Iain Duncan Smith and former children’s ministers Tim Loughton and Edward Timpson .

Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi did not support the legislation, promising to review it, but insisted, “Protecting face-to-face learning is my top priority. I have no intention of closing schools again.

The Halfon Schools and Educational Institutions (Critical Infrastructure and Emergency Opening) Bill should be called the Collective Immunity Bill or the Massive Infection of Children Bill. children. Its aim is to help Prime Minister Boris Johnson and any future government refuse to implement school closures, a vital public health measure in the fight against a highly infectious and deadly disease.

Defending the proposal, Halfon asserted, “While the nationwide closures were important to protect the health of the public, the school closures were simply a disaster for our children.” The “catastrophe” that really worries him is the threat to the financial interests of the super-rich posed by any serious effort to fight the pandemic.

Robert Halfon (Credit: Creative Commons)

These interests have already forced the complete reopening of schools on several occasions, leading to catastrophic outbreaks of illness. Last year’s reopening resulted in record infection rates of one in 40 elementary school students and one in 27 high school students. The spread of infection in schools fueled the most wave of the pandemic. murderous in the UK last winter.

Case rates this fall are even higher, with one in 25 elementary school students and one in 11 high school students infected. So far, 108 children have been killed by the virus, more than 7,000 hospitalized and nearly 70,000 suffer from Long COVID, including 10,000 for more than a year.

Infections are starting to spread again to the older segments of the population. More than 12,000 children in the UK had already lost a parent or guardian to the virus by April this year. Thousands more will have parents weakened by Long COVID.

Halfon’s bill seeks to make this voluntary infection of children and their families a permanent situation and allow it to occur in any future epidemic or pandemic. The ruling class, dependent on the constant exploitation of the working class to maintain its profits, is determined never to allow sections of the economy to shut down again. To keep parents at work, children need to be kept in school and exposed to the virus.

The task of pushing this legislation through parliament has been given to the Conservative henchman for bringing forward reactionary measures under the guise of concern for the youth and the working class. A prominent member of the Blue Collar Conservatism caucus, Halfon has been a voice in opposition to the school closures, supposedly out of concern for disadvantaged children.

His article for the The telegraph of the day last June, “By not reopening schools, we risk harming the life chances of thousands of children,” gives a foretaste. Schools were to reopen “as soon as possible”, he wrote, as children faced “an epidemic of educational poverty, a growing digital divide and a safeguard crisis”.

Halfon is supported by the former and current children’s commissioners, whose job will be, under his proposed law, to tell ministers whether school closures are “appropriate.”

Current England Commissioner Dame Rachel De Souza commented: “There is no doubt that children have paid a high price for their absence from school, and now is the time to put children out of school. heart of the recovery from the pandemic. That is why it is absolutely right that we do everything we can to keep schools open for children. “

Halfon’s bill’s right-wing motivations are highlighted by its close ties to the militant organization UsForThem, a lobby group for reopening schools and against masks and vaccines for children.

Tweeting about “Bringing my new bill to Parliament,” Halfon noted that it was backed by “@UsforThemUK inspiration”.

In an article written for Conservative house last July he exclaimed: “If there was an Oscar for the campaign, I would give it to the pressure group Us for Them without hesitation. Set up at the height of the pandemic, by a group of families worried about school closings and damage to children, these parents – with minimal funding – fought night and day on behalf of the students. “

Perhaps an Oscar would be appropriate. UsForThem is about as far removed as you can get from a grassroots lobby group speaking on behalf of parents and children.

The organization was formed in May 2020 to advocate on behalf of big business in calling for an end to all public health measures relating to schools and has been happy to work with anti-vax groups to achieve this goal. His connections have been revealed in a series of important exhibitions by the Signing time .

By line rate an article published by The temperature February newspaper that reads: “COVID Recovery Group MPs [of anti-lockdown campaigners on the Tory right], organized by Steve Baker, a perennial backbench Machiavelli, partnered with the UsforThem campaign, which lobbied for schools to reopen, to form an umbrella organization called The Recovery Alliance. Ed Barker, a political consultant, brings them together with businessmen who want the focus to shift from health to economics. “

Barker manages communications for UsForThem and the COVID Recovery Group, as well as for Halfon’s Blue Collar Conservatism group.

In June of last year, By line reports, UsForThem sent a letter to the Education Department warning of legal action against school closures and social distancing and other protective measures at schools. Legal pre-action was provided by multi-billion dollar law firm DLA Piper. According to Telegraph, a similar letter was sent earlier this year demanding an end to face masks in schools.

UsForThem’s original letter cited Ellen Townsend’s work as evidence of the “damage social distancing causes to children.” She is a signatory of the Great Barrington Declaration and a spokesperson for the Anti-Containment, Vaccines and Masks Health Advisory and Recovery (HART) team, also linked to the Conservative Party. Rosamond Jones, another prominent USForThem member, works closely with HART.

Halfon’s bill translates this dirty right-wing campaign into parliamentary language and, he hopes, into law.

Designating schools as “essential infrastructure” would also pave the way for the ban on strikes among school workers if the ruling class succeeded with its much-desired plans to ban industrial action in “essential” sectors, as is already the case in the past. several other European countries. countries.

Second reading of the bill is scheduled for February 4, 2022. Labor has so far given no response.

Association of School and College Leaders General Secretary Geoff Barton commented: “We support the idea of ​​defining schools and other educational institutions as ‘critical infrastructure’ and doing all we can to keep them. open during times of national emergency ”, adding only warnings that it“ should take into account public health advice ”and“ rely on material support ”.

Nick Brook, deputy general secretary of the NAHT principals union, said the bill “misses the point. Rather than thinking about political mechanisms to prevent school closings, we need the government to do a lot more to help keep classrooms open. “

As throughout the pandemic, unions will work hand in hand with Johnson to implement corporate preferred policy. Despite all their false claims, neither they nor the Conservatives care about the fate of the vast majority of children. Tackling the pandemic and repairing the damage done to young people over the past year, especially as the government allows the unrestricted spread of the virus, requires an independent working class political movement for socialism.

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