‘Do we stand at the gate and not let them in?’: Principals on new face mask rules

New guidelines putting colleagues in an ‘awful situation’, says Co Sligo school principal

Pupils in 3rd class at St Etchen’s National School listen to their teacher, Helen Glennon, Kinnegad, Co. Westmeath. Photograph: Damien Eagers

Pupils in 3rd class at St Etchen’s National School listen to their teacher, Helen Glennon, Kinnegad, Co. Westmeath. Photograph: Damien Eagers

 

School principals across the country say they do not envisage having to turn children away from school for failing to wear face masks.

The principal of one Co Sligo primary school said the new rule is putting colleagues in an “awful situation” with many wondering if they will be facing court challenges for refusing access to non-compliant pupils.

Aisling Tighe, principal of the 71-pupil Cloghogue school in Castlebaldwin said she was “lucky” to have had 100 per cent compliance but she said she would not refuse entry to a child who did not have a mask.

“I would not block a child. They have missed enough days already,” she said.

Ms Tighe was critical of a “strongly worded” letter circulated to principals late yesterday saying if medical certificates were not provided from today, pupils and staff without masks “will be refused entry to the school”.

Saying this was causing concern among principals, the Co Sligo teacher said colleagues were asking: “Do we stand at the gate and not let them in? There are even jokes about bouncers. It’s a bit ridiculous.”

She said there was also “a lot of anger out there” because of the decision to do away with contact tracing in schools. “If we still had contact tracing in schools we might not be in this position.”

With just 71 pupils in the school, 38 of them from third class up are impacted by the new rule.

Aisling Tighe, principal of the 70-pupil Cloghogue school outside Castlebaldwin. Photograph: Oonagh Taylor
Aisling Tighe, principal of the 70-pupil Cloghogue school outside Castlebaldwin. Photograph: Oonagh Taylor

Another Co Sligo-based principal agreed the lack of notice had put schools and parents under pressure, given that emails from the department and the chief medical officer had been received only on Tuesday evening with the new use coming into effect on Wednesday.

Robert Campbell, principal of the two-teacher Kilmactranny school, which has just 18 pupils in total, said he too had full compliance but “I would not turn pupils away”. He said while the masks were proving “uncomfortable and worrying” for some children, they were very resilient .

Meanwhile, there was also 100 per cent compliance with masks at Loughquittane National School in Killarney, Co Kerry, on Wednesday morning.

‘Proactive’

A decision was taken at the weekend to be “proactive” and children were also prepared, principal Alison Coffey said. It was explained to them and told how a lot of people in the school community had vulnerable people at home, Ms Coffey said.

“It was totally voluntary. Older people at home could be vulnerable, we explained.”

There was “100 per cent compliance,” she said. “In fact they children took so diligently when dismissal was called they had to be told to remove the mask – with some wearing the gear as they got into the family car.

The masks are removed for play.

Matt Melvin, principal of St Etchen’s National School in Kinnegad, Co Westmeath, says the vast majority of pupils aged nine and upwards were happy to wear face masks in school on Wednesday.

“I’d say we had compliance rates of about 90 to 95 per cent,” he says. “In most cases where they were not wearing one it was a case of their parents not hearing the news or forgetting because it’s not part of the routine.”

Mr Melvin says he doesn’t envisage having to turn any pupils away at the school gates, despite what the official guidance states.

“This shouldn’t be about making heroes out of parents who are resisting the rules. When we discuss the new rules with children, and explain the reasons for it, they are very happy to oblige.”