What happens if parents cannot agree whether a child should return to school?
Such differences of opinion may not only be between separated parents but also with parents living together. However even where children spend the majority of their time with one parent, that parent should discuss important matters in relation to their upbringing with the other parent. In the current circumstances a return to school may well be considered one such matter.
If at all possible, parents should in the first instance discuss their concerns directly to try and agree, or explore whether alternative arrangements can be made. For example, if one of the concerns is about the child travelling on public transport, solutions could be developed to help make the concerned parent feel more at ease, such as the other parent picking the child up and driving them for the time being. If there are issues around the safety measures the school has put in place, then these should be discussed with the school, involving both parents. It may also be the case the children can return to school and then be withdrawn in parents are concerned about the safeguarding measures in place.
There may also be particular considerations for some parents, such as siblings who will not be returning to school, or households where there may be adults or children with underlying health conditions which put them at greater risk. Balanced against that, will doubtless be factors such as the impact of missing school on the child's education and socialising with their peers, as well as their mental well-being.
If parents do not feel able to have these discussions directly, or need the assistance of a third party, then a mediator can assist in facilitating the conversation and exploring different options.
However ultimately, if parents are unable to agree then an application can be made to the court for a Specific Issue Order (which is an order to determine a specific question which has arisen or may arise in connection with any aspect of parental responsibility for a child), or a Prohibited Steps Order (which prevents someone from exercising their parental responsibility in respect of the disputed matter),. Which application is appropriate will depend upon whether the parent wishes for the child to return to school in the face of opposition from the other parent, or is seeking to prevent the child from returning to school. In respect of both orders, the child's welfare will be the court's paramount consideration. Factors which will be taken into consideration in determining the outcome include the child's physical and emotional need, but also, importantly in such cases, their educational needs.
Clearly, court proceedings should always be a last resort, and the outcome will depend upon the particular facts of each case. Applications can be made on an urgent basis, although it will be up to the individual judge to decide whether a case is suitable to be heard remotely.