Pupils kept at home as alert backfires on council after mysterious note sent to schools

Prestonpans Primary was among the schools which had pupils kept at home
Prestonpans Primary was among the schools which had pupils kept at home
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AROUND one in ten pupils failed to arrive for the final day of term after a “strange” note sent to more than a dozen East Lothian primaries sparked safety fears.

Children were kept home from school with parents citing concern over the bizarre anonymous letter – which contained a passage from a children’s parable – for the absence.

In total, 725 children from a school roll of 7759 were away from class.

The verse which caused education chiefs to issue a warning to parents was a reproduction of The Little Soul & The Sun by Neale Donald Walsch, author of the philosophical novel Conversations With God, the News can reveal today.

Parents now say the whole saga was mishandled, while East Lothian Council apologised for any “distress or misunderstanding” caused.

Kerry McFarlane, 27, one of the parents who refused to send her children to Prestonpans Primary School, said: “It’s a huge amount of children not attending school, but I don’t blame the parents because I did the same myself by keeping them off.

“I think the education department definitely over-reacted. The letter they sent to parents made the note they got sound sinister, but it doesn’t read like that to me.”

Ms McFarlane said she phoned the education department yesterday morning and was told the police had recommended a letter of advice was sent to parents. She said: “I blame the council for the alarm caused in a way, but if the police have told them to do it, then you can understand. I’m most annoyed that the kids missed their Christmas parties over this. They were really upset about that.”

The council said in a statement: “The issuing of the council’s letter was intended to advise and reassure parents following a number of concerns raised by school communities and to dispel rumours which were widely circulating on social media sites.

“Clearly the letter had the opposite effect and caused greater concern for which East Lothian Council sincerely apologises.

“The receipt of the anonymous letter by a number of local schools was reported to the police, who are currently investigating the matter.

“It is important to stress that these letters are non-criminal, non-threatening and non-offensive in nature, and we do not believe that any threat is posed to pupils or the wider community.”

Education leader councillor Shamin Akhtar said lessons had been learned but refused to comment on whether sanctions would be taken against officials responsible for the blunder.

“Maybe we could have done better,” she said. “What we want to make sure is that something like this never happens again.”