Council chief Danny Thorpe said Greenwich believed Mr Williamson’s order was wrong at a time when Covid-19 cases were rapidly increasing in the borough and was only being followed “Reluctantly”.
But Mr Thorpe said the council could not justify using taxpayer dollars to fight the Department of Education (DfE) in the courts and had no choice but to ask school principals to reopen classrooms to everyone.
The DfE on Monday evening issued a “temporary continuity directive” under the coronavirus law demanding the immediate withdrawal of a letter addressed to principals over the weekend advising them to close schools early for them. Christmas holidays and move to e-learning, as all expect children of key workers and those deemed vulnerable.
If Greenwich had not complied, the government could have sought an injunction to force the reopening.
In a letter to parents, Mr Thorpe described the situation in Greenwich schools as “grim”, with 521 positive cases in schools since the start of the term in September, and a total of 12,539 children and 1,231 school members. staff self-isolating at some point.
As of Monday alone, another 566 staff and students had to self-isolate, as the seven-day case rate for the borough rose 59% during the week.
Urging parents to take advantage of the new facilities to get themselves and their children tested for the coronavirus, he said: “Yesterday the council received a government directive that schools in the district must remain fully open until. ‘at the end of the quarter.
“While I cannot agree that this is the right choice for our schools, I also cannot justify using public funds to challenge the decision in court. Therefore, I have no choice but to ask our schools to keep their doors open to all students rather than just continue learning online.
At least two other London boroughs – Islington and Waltham Forest – said on Monday they were advising schools to switch to online learning in the days leading up to Christmas.
Unlike Greenwich, which issued its guidelines the day before, none of those boards had faced a legal directive on Tuesday night.
Islington Council has now advised schools to open as usual on Wednesdays and told schools they can organize a medallion day on Thursday – the last day of the term for English schools – after discussions with the DfE.
“We have issued this notice to schools because the situation in Islington is so serious,” Richard Watts, the head of the board, said Tuesday evening. “As Islington and London continue to face rising coronavirus rates, it is absolutely essential that we all work together and do all we can to keep our families and loved ones safe.”
Meanwhile, the Waltham Forestry Council has said it will not bow to pressure from ministers to withdraw its advice from schools, paving the way for a possible legal battle with the government.
“We are confident that the schools in Waltham Forest made their decisions based on their own individual risk assessment and with student safety at heart,” Council Chief Clare Coghill said Tuesday evening, adding that some schools had decided to move online education so most students would follow their advice, while others did not.
Islington and Waltham Forest had received a letter from the regional school commissioner urging them to reconsider their position by telling schools to only go online for the last days of the term. Greenwich received a similar letter, before it received legal direction.
Islington and Waltham Forest schools also received a letter from Nick Gibb, the Minister for Schools, reminding them of the importance of staying open.
“It is disappointing that in a year when teachers, students and parents have gone to extraordinary lengths to ensure education continues through a once in a lifetime crisis, the Minister has chosen to write to our schools by threatening them with legal action, ”Ms. Coghill said.
In his letter to Greenwich on Monday, Mr Willamson said it was “simply not in the best interests of the children for schools in Greenwich, Islington or elsewhere to close,” adding that the government would seek an ordinance court if the board refused to comply.
Mr Williamson hailed Greenwich Council’s decision on Tuesday to revoke guidelines requiring schools to go online only during the last days of the term. “Children’s education is a national priority and this government has acted in the best interests of children since the start of the pandemic,” he said.
The education secretary added: “The regional school commissioner and her team will continue to work with schools in the district, as we are doing with schools across the country, to ensure that they have the support they need to continue the face-to-face education until the last day of the term. ”
Elsewhere in London, the Redbridge Council said it would support schools if they decide to go online during the last two days of the term due to staff and student absences – but said that was not their role to tell them to do it.
Eight out of nine secondary schools in Basildon, Essex have switched to full distance education.
A number of independent schools – including Eton College – have also switched to online courses and ended in-person teaching early in a number of Covid-19 cases.
MPs have spoken out against the government’s resolve to keep schools open as the capital enters the most difficult levels of Level 3 social and economic restrictions, with pubs and restaurants closing from Wednesday.
Tory Wimbledon MP Stephen Hammond was part of a group briefed by ministers on Monday.
“Frankly, the government shouldn’t stop schools from being closed,” he said.
“I’ve been of the opinion for at least a week now, looking at my area, that the schools should have been closed last Friday. With only three days until the end of the mandate, we should make this decision today. ”
The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has called for the premature closure of schools in the capital.
But Downing Street said on Monday that all schools were to remain open until the end of the term.
“We have always said that not being in school has a detrimental impact on children’s learning as well as their own personal development and mental health,” said Mr Johnson’s official spokesperson. “This is why we expect all schools and colleges to remain open until the end of Thursday’s term, as schools have remained open throughout the pandemic.”