Letter to college re: mask and test discrimination

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Written by: Miri
June 9, 2021
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Dear [college principal],

I am currently an apprentice [type of trade] student at the college, and I am writing to you today regarding the deeply distressing experience I am currently enduring, where I am being prohibited from completing my education, due to the discriminatory and exclusionary policies of the college towards those who are mask-exempt.

I possess a medical exemption from wearing a mask, a fact which I have clearly communicated to the college on several occasions. By law, those medically exempt from mask-wearing are required only to self-certify by stating that they are exempt, and this is made clear on the UK Government's website (1). The law does not require the mask-exempt to provide any further details, or evidence of their exemption, such as a doctors' certificate, which doctors have in any case stated they are not able to provide (2). 

To either ask for evidence of exemption, or to withhold services from an individual on the basis of their exemption, is an offence under the Equality Act 2010. Contravening this Act may result in the individuals and/or organisations in question being given a personal fine of up to £5,000 and punitive damages of between £900 and £9,000 as per sections 112 (Aiding Contraventions) and section 119 (Remedies) of this Act (3).

The Equality Act 2010 is comprehensively legally binding in the UK and applies to all individuals and institutions within the legal jurisdiction of the UK. It cannot be overridden by internal policies of institutions, which are still fully bound by the laws of the land in which they reside. 

Therefore, you can imagine my deep dismay and shock when on [date], I was prohibited from entering the college building by two staff members, on the basis of my mask exemption. I patiently explained to them that I am exempt, and that the college is legally required to recognise my exemption and not discriminate against me on this basis, but they were unmoved and refused to grant me access to the building.  They informed me that I would not be permitted to re-enter the college unless and until "the Government guidance changes". But the Government guidance has never been to discriminate against the mask-exempt or to deny them services as vital as education. On the contrary, the Government guidance and the law (both referenced at the end of this letter) make it abundantly clear that mask exemptions must be accepted and respected universally, and the mask-exempt not discriminated against in any way. 

I have been a student at the college for [timeframe] and am now very near to the completion of my apprenticeship programme, which is due to conclude in [month]. I am not in a position to delay this completion date, which would have significant financial implications for me, as well as causing me severe and enduring distress.

I have been an excellent student to date and have always behaved with courtesy and respect, abiding by the college's rules and regulations. However, I am not prepared to undermine my own health by wearing a mask when I am medically and legally exempt, and so I must ask the college to confirm as a matter of urgency that I will be readmitted to the college immediately and able to complete my apprenticeship on time, with no further expectation or pressure upon me to wear a mask. 

In addition, I have produced a negative lateral flow test result for the college, which purports to demonstrate that I am free from coronavirus. I was not entirely comfortable with having to undertake this test, which the college stated was voluntary - but then stated that I would not be granted entrance to the college without taking it. This, therefore, is not voluntary. Government guidance makes it very clear that testing regimes are voluntary, and are not compulsory in any educational setting, so, again, the college appears to be creating its own rules and regulations which do not adhere to government guidance or the law. The law does not state that testing is compulsory for the mask-exempt, it states it is voluntary for all learners. 

I have reservations about the lateral flow test, since conducting any medical procedure on oneself, especially one as invasive as nasal swabbing, comes with risks, yet when I asked the college for a comprehensive risk assessment relating to lateral flow testing, they were unable to provide it. 

I have conducted my own research into lateral flow testing, and what I have found contradicts the college's claims that the lateral flow tests are highly accurate.

The Guardian newspaper issued a report earlier this year warning of the dangers and inadequacies of the lateral flow test. According to The Guardian, lateral flow devices are "inaccurate and may cause more harm than good" (4). The newspaper quotes Professor J. Deeks of Birmingham University and the Royal Statistical Society, and colleagues, who have stated in the British Medical Journal:

"The UK government is widening the rollout of the Innova lateral flow test without supporting evidence, and we understand that this may soon extend to further home use. This may cause serious harm. We call on the government urgently to change course.” (5)

Many other experts harbour deep reservations about these tests, with Clinical Professor of Public Health, Allyson Pollock of Newcastle University, stating in the New Scientist that mass screening using lateral flow tests should not have been widely introduced before being tested for accuracy in the community. Pollock states: “[Lateral flow tests] have not been evaluated outside of a laboratory setting.” (6)

Further compounding my concerns about the lateral flow testing is the method by which the test is administered. The insertion of a swab far up the nasal cavity is an extremely invasive experience, which has not only caused me significant anxiety and distress, but which is also documented to be potentially dangerous. Media reports have detailed cases of the nasal swab penetrating the blood-brain barrier and causing brain fluid to leak (7), and there are also reports of the swabs being contaminated due to inadequate quality controls (8).

I do not wish to further expose myself to such risks, especially for a test that is documented to be unreliable.

Please note that my right to decline any medical testing offered to me without facing penalty or disadvantage is protected in law by UNESCO's Universal Declaration on Bioethics and Human Rights, which states at Article 6, Section 1: 

"Any preventive, diagnostic and therapeutic medical intervention is only to be carried out with the prior, free and informed consent of the person concerned, based on adequate information. The consent should, where appropriate, be express and may be withdrawn by the person concerned at any time and for any reason without disadvantage or prejudice." (9)

In conclusion, I seek your urgent and formal written assurance that I will immediately be readmitted as a student to the college and that my mask-exempt status will be accepted by all staff, whilst the college will also accept that lateral flow or other forms of medical testing remain voluntary, regardless of whether a student is or is not able to wear a mask. Choosing not to participate in medical testing is a human right, enshrined in international human rights treaties, and cannot be used as a basis to deny someone an education, in either the short or long-term.

I remain happy to practice social distancing and frequent hand washing whilst at college, as I have always done, for the comfort of those around me.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely,

[Name]

References:

1) https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/face-coverings-when-to-wear-one-and-how-to-make-your-own/face-coverings-when-to-wear-one-and-how-to-make-your-own

2) https://www.burtondocs.co.uk/2020/07/21/face-mask-exemption-letters-no-gp-medical-letter-needed/

3) https://www.laworfiction.com/2020/07/face-covering-for-6-to-12-months-from-24th-july/

4) https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/jan/12/experts-call-for-rethink-lateral-flow-mass-testing-covid-uk

5) https://blogs.bmj.com/bmj/2021/01/12/covid-19-government-must-urgently-rethink-lateral-flow-test-roll-out/

6) https://www.newscientist.com/article/2263746-test-caught-just-3-per-cent-of-students-with-covid-19-at-uk-university/#ixzz6n6hD5CP0

7) https://www.standard.co.uk/news/health/coronavirus-swab-test-woman-s-nose-brain-leaked-a4562066.html

8) https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/coronavirus-lab-testing-kits-contamination-false-positives-delay-a9472601.html

9) http://portal.unesco.org/en/ev.php-URL_ID=31058&URL_DO=DO_TOPIC&URL_SECTION=201.html

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