Students from village school near Sleaford cut short Italian ski trip and return home for two weeks’ isolation

A Sleaford area school has had to abandon its ski trip to the Italian Alps and put its returning pupils in self-isolation after the country expanded its lockdown due to the spread of coronavirus.

Sir William Robertson Academy pupils have had to cut short their ski trip to the Italian Alps after coronavirus restrictions were expanded. EMN-201003-161503001
Sir William Robertson Academy pupils have had to cut short their ski trip to the Italian Alps after coronavirus restrictions were expanded. EMN-201003-161503001

The seven day trip by Sir William Robertson Academy students and staff set out from Welbourn to Courmayeur, in the Aosta Valley, on Saturday March 7 and was expected to be away until Friday March 14.

As of Friday, there had only been two diagnosed cases of coronavirus in the Aosta Valley region and had not been part of the enforced ‘lockdown’ area.

But with the Italian government announcing yesterday its intention to widen its emergency measures to cover the entire country as infection numbers rose and the death toll for the country hit 463, ski lifts at the resorts were closed and the school party had no option but to return home early.

Sir William Robertson Academy, in Welbourn.

On Monday, Italy’s Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte ordered people to stay home and seek permission for essential travel.

With Government advice now for all travellers returning from Italy to self-isolate for two weeks, parents have been asked to keep the pupils off school and arrangements will be made for them to work from home.

Headteacher Mark Guest said in a letter to parents today (Tuesday): “We welcomed our ski trip safely back to school at 7.30am this morning. I should like to thank all of the pupils for their resilience and cheerfulness despite the disappointment of their trip being cut short.

“I should also like to thank all families for collecting their children so promptly and efficiently from the Bus park before the start of the school day and taking them straight home – after almost a full day travelling I am sure they will be exhausted. I should also like to thank all of the staff who accompanied the trip for their care and support of the children during a uniquely difficult and challenging set of circumstances.”

He said that guidance for travellers returning from Italy has changed overnight, requiring self-isolation for 14 days, even if you are not exhibiting symptoms.

He said: “We had been updating the parents of children on the trip through text message overnight and they were all aware when they collected their children this morning that this would be the likely outcome.

“At 8.30am this morning, the updated advice was confirmed by the Programme Manager (Infection Prevention and Control and Emergency Planning) at Lincolnshire County Council, so all of the pupils and staff who accompanied the ski trip will be starting a 14 day period of self-isolation.”

Families have been offered advice on how to manage self-isolation at home.

Mr Guest added: “It has been confirmed that it is only the child (or member of staff) who has been to Italy who must self-isolate. Other family members are not required to self-isolate and can attend work or school, but must remain vigilant for any family member developing symptoms. If this occurs, the NHS 111 service should be contacted and their advice followed.”

The school’s Senior Leadership Team are meeting at the end of school today to consider how best to support the learning of pupils in isolation, including using online homework programmes.

As Courmayeur is close to the French border, alternative skiing options in France were considered, but had to be discounted because the insurance would not cover skiing in another European country and the ski instructors could also not operate in another domain.

Mr Guest said: “As it was clear that our pupils would not be able to ski during their time in Italy – and given that any other activities had not been risk-assessed and parents’ consent had not been obtained – we reluctantly took the decision that the trip should return to the UK at the earliest opportunity, setting off at lunchtime Monday.”

He said the trip had been carefully planned and risk-assessed, and the ski resort and travel company (Interski) were ones that the school has used successfully many times over a number of years.

In the run-up to the trip, the school had been carefully monitoring the developing situation regarding Coronavirus in Italy. In addition to receiving and acting upon the daily update from the Department for Education, the school had been checking hourly the Foreign Office Travel Advice for the Aosta Valley and the guidance from Public Health England.

Mr Guest added: “In addition, I raised a specific question with regard to our trip with the Department for Education’s Coronavirus Helpline. No restrictions had been placed on travel to the Courmayeur/Aosta Valley area.”

Parents had quite raised concerns regarding Coronavirus outbreaks prior to the trip but had been reassured in letters home by the school that it was well outside the lockdown area with no travel restrictions, but had added: “It is important as a parent you make your own informed choice as to whether you feel it is appropriate for your child to travel to the Aosta Valley on Saturday.

“Whilst the (FCO) travel advice remains the same there would be no financial compensation if you decided not to travel as the reason would not meet the insurance threshold. Travel insurance would not cover a ‘disinclination’ to travel.”