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

Burnley College, where teacher Donna Coleman died in January last year, was ruled a breach of 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
Donna Coleman, a teacher at Burnley College, died of Covid

A college where a teacher died from Covid advised staff to break pandemic rules and even threw a Christmas party for all staff, a new report says.

Burnley College is the first educational institution found by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to have breached health and safety laws during the pandemic.

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

The results showed that the college “did not meet social distancing and ventilation requirements” at an office Donna shared with two colleagues — even after one tested positive.

And staff at the further education college were encouraged not to report their “close contacts” if they caught Covid.

Donna, left, had raised concerns about the college not following Covid rules, her sister said



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

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

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

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

“While the HSE has been unable to determine that Burnley’s mistakes directly led to Donna’s death, it is clear that the college put staff and student lives at risk.

“The college shouldn’t need a year-long investigation to correct fundamental mistakes, like refusing to allow staff to self-isolate when the law requires it, or recognizing that it’s incredibly reckless to push a Christmas party during a pandemic.

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



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

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

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

“At that point she said there was nothing in place but it was kinda ok as she brought her own mask and took her own hand sanitiser. But by September 100% of the staff and 100% of the students were back.

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

Stephanie claimed there was a culture of Covid denial at the college at the time, with staff often commenting that it did not exist on its premises.

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

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

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

She said: “We spoke to each other on a daily basis. We were very, very close and she said, “Steph, I’m scared for my job, I can’t afford not to be there.”

Stephanie said her sister felt unwell during the second week of December 2020 as cases began to surge in college.

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



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

“I said, ‘Are you okay, 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 this weekend so she went to get a test.

Donna tested positive for Covid on December 14, during a week that at least 14 other staff at the college also contracted the virus.

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

She added: “I heard about the Christmas party and I knew it was happening. She was notorious every year.

“They may have adjusted it slightly during the day, but they still provided everyone with a few drinks alcohol and food separately.

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

“You are a huge college in the center of the city. The rules at the time are you don’t – so why are you?”

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

Stephanie says she feels the college failed in its duty of care towards her sister and didn’t take her health concerns seriously.

She said: “It was like ‘we’re a bubble that’s exempt because we’re carrying on as usual’ when everyone else in the country – well, most other people in the country – followed the rules. “

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