Teachers at boarding schools have been told xenophobia might rise as a result of fears around the coronavirus outbreak.
There are fears that the outbreak of the virus in China might lead to verbal harassment directed at international students with family members living in affected areas.
In an official memo sent to member schools, the Boarding Schools’ Association (BSA), warned: “Stay alert for any signs of xenophobia by students towards one another, or by any external audiences, either in school or on social media sites. Such behaviour should not be tolerated, and action should be taken against anyone acting in this way.”
It is essential that all schools consider appropriate, proportionate and risk-assessed responses
The association said the coronavirus is “different from the SARS outbreak in 2003, when many schools had to quarantine pupils”, but added: “It is essential that all schools consider appropriate, proportionate and risk-assessed responses based on the circumstances of the individual school, the situation locally and updated advice from the relevant authorities”.
The situation is “rapidly changing” and schools are warned to look out for relevant symptoms.
BSA said schools should advise pupils against travelling to China or Hong Kong over the coming February half-term, adding: “Advise those who decide to travel that protective measures could well be in place before they return. Depending on how the virus spreads in that time, this could include the need for returning pupils to be quarantined.”
The association said some schools had already cancelled planned visits from China, including from prospective students and their families – although this might not be a requirement, the organisation did say it “prudent to minimise any unnecessary risk”.
Based on the current situation, BSA suggests school leaders consider “how the school would respond to a suspected or confirmed case”. According to a 2019 Independent Schools Council report, which counts the number of students at UK private schools with parents living overseas, there are over 7,000 students with parents living in mainland China and nearly 5,000 with parents in Hong Kong. The vast majority of those pupils study at boarding schools.