By Nicole Lee, Specialist Solicitor
We have received lots of enquiries from parents of children with special educational needs, who understandably are concerned about the restrictions on movement, and what this means for them and their disabled children.
This concerns is only heightened by the huge amount of social media “advice” available, which varies from people who are actively ignoring the directive to ‘stay home’ and encouraging others to do the same, and those who will vilify anyone stepping outside their front door.
Our first tip therefore, is do not seek unqualified advice online, and try as best as possible, not to pay it too much heed. We are experts in the fields of SEN, and are working tirelessly to provide accurate, up to date advice to parents within a 48-hour period. If in doubt, please ask us. We are here to help. (Contact us here or keep an eye on our Facebook page for updates!)
The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020
The full details on the restrictions on movement are set out in the The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020, Regulation 6. The full text can be found here http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2020/350/regulation/6/made.
The starting point for us all is Regulation 6(1), which states “During the emergency period, no person may leave the place where they are living without reasonable excuse.” The place you live includes the actual premises where you live together with any garden, yard, passage, stair, garage, outhouse or other part of such premises.
For those who live in buildings with shared facilities or outside space, this means that you CAN lawfully access those facilities. However, when doing so, you should maintain social distancing, and stay at least 2 metres away from people who are not members of your household, and not socialise with people outside of your household.
Practically, this may be challenging to coordinate, but communication is key. If for example you live in a building with a shared garden, and it is either not big enough to maintain social distancing, or if your child’s needs are such that they will not be able to maintain social distancing, then you would be well advised to organise with your neighbours who will be accessing the garden, and when, to prevent overlaps.
However, the option to get outdoors whilst staying home isn’t available to us all. This is particularly challenging at a time when we are being told to stay home, whilst also being encouraged to get outside and exercise in order to promote our mental and physical health and well-being. So, the question is raised, can we legally go out during the Coronavirus crisis? The answer is yes, as long as you have a “reasonable excuse” for doing so.
What is a “reasonable excuse” to go out?
Handily, a list of what might constitute a reasonable excuse is then set out in Regulation 6(2). This includes at 6(2)(b) to take exercise either alone or with other members of their household.
However, there have been further restrictions placed by the request that people do not travel in order to exercise. For parents of children with special educational needs, this may be challenging, or even impossible to do. For example, if you live in a built up area, you may not be able to safely exercise with your child in proximity to home, as they may be prone to absconding, lack road safety awareness, or lack social distancing awareness.
If this is the case, then it would be a “reasonable excuse” to travel in order to exercise. This may include travelling by car to a nearby park, where your children can exercise and enjoy some fresh air without being in danger of being hurt on the road or absconding into a built-up area where they can quickly disappear from view.
What if I’m challenged?
Firstly, you have to remember that the role of the police is to apply the law. Nothing more. The law does not stop you from driving somewhere to exercise away from your home. As a further point, it isn’t the role of Sandra down the road to apply the law. Only the police.
However, as we know, needs are often not visible, and it may not be obvious to the police (or other members of the community) why is it that you have a “reasonable excuse” for being away from home to exercise.
If you are exercising away from home/travelling to exercise, then it is a sad fact of the emergency situation that we are in that you may be stopped by a police officer and asked for the reason for your journey.
In this respect, knowledge is key. As stated above, the law does not stop you from travelling from home to exercise, but it does require you to have a reasonable excuse for doing so. Explain, calmly, exactly why you have a reasonable excuse for travelling from home in order to exercise. Remember, as long as you have a “reasonable excuse”, you are doing nothing wrong.
If you have an autism awareness card, sunflower lanyard or similar system, then use it as a visual reinforcer of why you have a “reasonable excuse”. If you don’t have this, then we have seen some really helpful suggestions online of “Do it yourself” advice sheets, such as this wording from Julian Norman – Barrister at Drystone Chambers.
The holder of this card has a disability.
We are travelling a short distance to exercise because our local area is not accessible.
We are happy to answer questions
But please ask calmly and quietly, and avoid causing distress to the child.