A LABOUR motion calling for school consultations to be halted in Carmarthenshire because of the impact of the coronavirus lost out at a meeting of full council to an amended version put forward by Plaid Cymru.
Labour leader Cllr Rob James wanted consultations covering school reorganisations and changes to language provision put on hold until September.
His motion also called for a report on the viability of Carmarthenshire schools, outlining any future school footprint changes.
Cllr James said many parents were stressed enough as it was by the Covid crisis and were now struggling with the extra anxiety of possible changes to their children’s education.
“Feel their pain; put yourself in their shoes,” he said.
“Forget what your party wants you to do, and remember why you became a councillor.”
The amended version – submitted by Plaid councillor and executive board member for education and children, Glynog Davies – said school consultations on matters such as education provision were not appropriate during a pandemic in any instances which conflicted with Welsh Government guidelines.
Cllr Davies said the council was following these guidelines, and that 40,000 responses were given to consultations in 2020 – nearly four times as many as the year before – showing the public was actively engaging during the pandemic.
He also quoted a Welsh Government email which said “restrictions imposed (by Covid) do not mean statutory reorganisation proposals are not able to proceed”.
The amended motion also said the council would continue to monitor the viability of schools as required by the Welsh Government, and take any necessary action following public consultation in an open manner.
There is currently a consultation on a potential review of primary school education in areas near Kidwelly and Ammanford. This could lead to two small primaries closing and new ones being built nearby to serve four existing schools.
Another consultation will get under way this month on proposals to introduce Welsh language education for early years learning at two other primaries in the county.
Many councillors had their say on the subject, with Plaid councillor Dorian Williams claiming that Cllr James was creating “unnecessary anxiety as well as chaos and frustration for all concerned”.
Labour councillor Gary Jones said parents needed time to organise, and could not do this effectively in the current conditions.
New independent councillor Shahana Najmi was among several who quoted from emails they’d received from worried parents.
She said she did not believe it was morally right to add to families’ stress at this time.
“I think parents need a break, basically,” she said.
Labour councillor Ken Lloyd said the amended Plaid motion shifted the responsibility from the council onto the Welsh Government, and urged members to vote for the original one.
Plaid councillor Alun Lenny said the bigger picture was trying to provide suitable education for pupils for the 21st Century – an aim shared by the Welsh Labour Government.
Cllr Lenny said 33 schools had closed or were deemed unviable – although sometimes to make way for a new area school – when Labour was in power between 2004 and 2015.
“Now the Labour leader wants to put himself on a pedestal as a champion of small schools,” he said.
Former Labour leader, Cllr Kevin Madge, said he recalled Plaid being opposed to many of the school changes back then, and that the situation was different now.
He said: “I think it’s only right that parents don’t have the worries of their school closing.”
Plaid councillor Liam Bowen branded Cllr James’s motion “shameful”, and argued it was full of contradictions.
He added that parents would have further opportunities to express their views if the proposals currently being consulted on were to move forward.
“We do respect our constituents enough to tell them the truth,” said Cllr Bowen.
Labour councillor Tina Higgins said some of the emails she’d received from concerned parents were “quite frankly distressing to read”.
She said: “To put added stress on parents and staff is totally unacceptable.”
New independent councillor Jeff Edmunds said he saw merits in Cllr James’s motion but that he would abstain in the vote because he found it contradictory.
The amended motion was backed by a majority of councillors to make it the “substantive” motion.
A majority of members then voted in favour of the new substantive motion, meaning the current consultations will carry on.