Masks for children: ‘We’ve been treated with mistrust and contempt. Kids will suffer’

Stressed parents and upset children a consequence of Department of Education directive on mask wearing in school

Laura Keating and her son James Grant. James is deaf and has cochlear implants. ‘I felt so utterly defeated when the announcement indicated they [masks] were mandatory.’

The announcement of new Covid restrictions for under-12’s this week was met with frustration, upset and anger by parents and teachers. While restrictions had been anticipated following Nphet’s recommendations several days earlier, concern was expressed on social media platforms that children were being expected to pick up the slack resulting from poor handling of the schools’ situation by Government.

Department of Education advice to schools in relation to mask wearing for children aged 9+ provoked a further angry response with the department advising that “children would be refused entry to school if a medical cert exempting them from masking up is sought but not provided”.

Mother of three, Sinead Lynam told The Irish Times she feels “railroaded”. While she has concerns about the restrictions on children’s social activities, she accepts “some changes have to be made. If it had to be masks or social restrictions, I’d pick the latter. My younger two are both on the quiet side. I have been working with teachers in the past two to three years to help them find their voice, as we call it, to help them engage more in class, to get involved more and for my youngest to speak up and stand up for herself. The introduction of masks will muffle this.”

One of her children is extremely stressed by the requirement. But without a medical sensory issue that might qualify him for an exemption, he has asked if she can home school him instead. Something Lynam says she is going to have to consider.


She feels children are being made to pay the price for Government decisions. “When they dropped contact tracing within schools they made Covid a virus that no one spoke about when it entered a classroom . . . rather than accept their wrongdoing they implement rules that make the lives of some children so much harder.”

Mum-of-two Tara* says she doesn’t know how one of her children will cope. “He is really stressed about the prospect already,” she says. “I have no confidence that they have considered the implications on kids. I doubt they even realise that some kids go to afterschool for childcare and they will have a very long day now in a mask.

“Did they talk to the Ombudsman for Children or anyone with specialist expertise in kids or kids’ education?” asks Tara, adding that she is “furious” at the Government’s actions.

For mother-of-three Laura Keating news of the mask requirement came as a crushing blow. Her son James is deaf and has cochlear implants. “I felt so utterly defeated when the announcement indicated they were mandatory. I felt physically sick” she says.

“The wearing of face masks by his class-mates now means that he cannot hear when a teacher asks another child in the class a question and the response that the child gives back to the teacher. He has always been a happy and sociable boy at school but has been pale and tearful about masks in the classroom since last week.

“Him not wearing a mask, that won’t matter. It’s everyone else wearing a mask that hobbles him. The Government has left the kids with special educational needs high and dry in all of this.”

Teacher and mother Edel* says she has seen, as a secondary school teacher, “how masks have silenced students, how they’ve made awkward interactions even more challenging. We look at people’s faces when we speak because it helps tell a story – it is full of important social cues. Children need these more than any other cohort; social interactions are already a minefield for many and now we are going to remove a key component of communication.”

‘Damage love of learning’

Edel worries about the implications for younger children, including her own. “In a time of such uncertainty, where parents could offer very little stability, we told them the truths we were told. Now it has been undone. How do we justify masks to them? They sit with the same group of 20-something students day in, day out. They will be unmasked to eat and play and then they put the masks back on to study. It will damage the love of learning and it will undermine the vestiges of certainty we pretended we had for them.”

Mother and primary school teacher Carol* says she feels “awful for our children. What are we doing to their social and emotional wellbeing? School is not a happy place any more. Spontaneity and fun is gone. No access to PE hall, no Gaelic teams allowed to practise during lunchtimes, no use of the computer rooms or library. It’s really saddening and I fear for the next generation.

“Where’s the concrete evidence to prove masking up will resolve the issue of cases?” she asks. “Why not provide free antigen tests to all school children and staff? Instead we’ve been treated with mistrust and contempt. Kids will suffer unnecessarily here in my opinion.

“Hepa [air purification] filters too would have helped matters, instead of one measure only, that to me is purely theatre at this stage. Where and when will this end? I don’t trust the Government any more.”

*Name has been changed to protect identity.