College where teacher died of Covid ‘encouraged staff to break pandemic rules’

Burnley College, where teacher Donna Coleman died in January last year, was found to have broken Covid rules by the Health and Safety Executive and even held a Christmas party for all staff

Donna Coleman, a teacher at Burnley College, died of Covid

A university where a teacher died of Covid advised staff to break pandemic rules and even held a Christmas party for all staff, a new report said.

Burnley College is the first educational institution to have violated health and safety laws during the pandemic, according to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

The report followed an HSE investigation into the death of Donna Coleman, 42, in January last year.

The findings showed that the college failed to “meet social distancing and ventilation requirements” in an office Donna shared with two colleagues — even after one tested positive.

And secondary education staff were encouraged not to report their “close contacts” if they got Covid.

Donna, left, had expressed concern that the college was not following Covid rules, her sister said



It confirmed that a Christmas party “for all employees” was being held when there was a strict ban on gatherings – on the same day as the infamous Downing Street bash.

Footage later emerged from the party showing a staff member breaking into a karaoke performance of “It’s Raining Men” in front of a gathered cheering crowd.

The University and College Union, which supported Donna’s family in bringing the case, said the school had “endangered the lives of staff and students.”

General Secretary Jo Grady said: “The Health and Safety Executive has found numerous instances where Burnley College has failed to fulfill its duties to protect the safety of its staff and students during the deadly second wave of Covid.

“While the HSE was unable to determine that Burnley’s shortcomings directly caused Donna’s death, it is clear that the college has endangered the lives of staff and students.

“The college shouldn’t need a year-long investigation to address fundamental flaws, such as refusing to self-isolate staff when it was a legal requirement, or realizing it’s incredibly reckless to go ahead with a Christmas party.” during a pandemic.

Burnley College, where Donna, left, taught, has been found guilty of violating Covid rules



“Many workers have lost their lives to Covid and today our thoughts remain firmly with Donna’s family.”

Stephanie Coleman, 39, Donna’s sister, said program director Donna raised concerns about her safety when students returned to college in September 2020.

She said: “She was asked to go back and make some claims, so she did, as there was only her and one other person in the office.

“At the time she said nothing was out of place, but it was kinda okay because she brought her own mask and brought her own hand sanitizer. But by September, 100% of the staff and 100% of the students were there.” back .

“She told me, ‘We’re 15 in our staff room and there’s no social distancing going on.”

Stephanie claimed there was a culture of denial about Covid in college at the time, with staff often noting that it didn’t exist on the property.

She said: “The line was, ‘Well, Covid doesn’t exist at Burnley College – don’t you know?”

“But Burnley had one of the highest percentages in the country.”

Stephanie urged her sister to complain, but Donna said she was afraid of losing her job.

She said, “We spoke daily. We were very, very close and she said, ‘Steph, I’m afraid of my job, I can’t afford not to be there.”

Stephanie said her sister started to feel unwell in the second week of December 2020 as more and more cases came in college.

Donna, second from the right, tested positive for Covid on December 14, 2000



She said: “On Friday, December 11, she was feeling bad. I was in Lanzarote at the time and hadn’t seen her for two weeks because I didn’t want any contact before I left.

“I said, ‘All right, it’s Friday!’ She said, “I just don’t feel that great.” She said, ‘I think I’m just tired, it’s been a busy week’.

“Two people from her office tested positive that weekend, so she went for a test.

Donna tested positive for Covid on December 14, during a week in which at least 14 other university staff were also infected with the virus.

But despite the outbreak in positive cases, Stephanie, who previously worked at the college, claims bosses arranged a Christmas party for staff, in violation of Covid rules.

She added: “I heard about Christmas, and I knew it was happening. It was infamous every year.

“They may have tweaked it a little bit during the day, but they still provided everyone with a few drinks of alcohol and food separately.

She added: “People are bad at home – we all want Christmas parties, but you don’t.

‘You are a huge university in the center of the city. The rules of the time are that you don’t do it – so why do you?’

Donna was hospitalized with Covid on December 28 and died on January 6, 2021.

Stephanie says she felt the college was failing in their duty of care to her sister and not taking her health concerns seriously.

She said: “It was like ‘we’re a bubble exempt from it because we just keep going’, when everyone in the country — well, most other people in the country — were following the rules.”

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