Q&A: What has changed with the latest guidance on mask-wearing for children?

Children who do not comply will not be excluded by the school in ‘the first instance’

New advice to schools issued this morning stressed that children in third class and above should not be excluded from schools ‘in the first instance’ for not wearing masks. Photograph: iStock

New advice to schools issued this morning stressed that children in third class and above should not be excluded from schools ‘in the first instance’ for not wearing masks. Photograph: iStock

 

What are the rules on mask-wearing for children?

Since last week, children in third class and upwards have been required to wear face masks while at school as a result of the high incidence of Covid-19 in this age group, which is currently unvaccinated.

Children from the age of nine are also required to wear face masks while on public transport, in retail stores and in other indoor public settings.

Why was new guidance issued?

The measure was announced on Tuesday and expected to be implemented by Wednesday morning, the fast pace of which was largely criticised by those in school communities.

Schools requested that the department issued more comprehensive guidance on how the new rules would operate in practice. That was issued to schools on Monday.

So what has changed?

The vast majority of the rules remain in place. However, the guidance that was re-issued on Monday takes a much softer approach than the previous iteration.

The original guidance issued to schools stated that pupils who failed to comply with the rules, and who did not have a medically-certified exemption, would be sent home from school.

However, the latest document states that in implementing the public health measure, “it is not intended that any child will be excluded by the school in the first instance”.

It also outlines the reasons for which pupils might be exempt from wearing a face mask.

Does this mean children won’t be turned away from schools if they refuse to wear a mask?

Asked if this means a pupil who fails to comply with the guidelines will be allowed to attend school, a spokesman for the Department of Education reiterated that it is not intended children will be excluded from school “in the first instance”.

He said a “solution-focused” engagement between the school and the child’s parents or guardians should take place to resolve issues that may arise.

“The department will engage with schools to offer guidance and support to reassure parents and to help schools resolve any issues,” the spokesman said.

“Where significant issues have not been resolved locally, contact should be made with the department’s Covid-19 support line.”

Do I still need a certificate from a doctor if I want my child to be exempt?

The following categories of children are exempt on medical grounds from wearing face masks/coverings:

· Any pupil with difficulty breathing or other relevant medical conditions.

· Any pupil who is unable to remove the cloth face mask/covering or visor without assistance.

· Any pupil who has special needs and who may feel upset or very uncomfortable wearing the cloth face mask/covering or visor.

This includes pupils with intellectual or developmental disabilities, mental health conditions, sensory concerns or tactile sensitivity.

However, the newest guidance also states that where a school is aware, having consulted with the parent or guardian that a child’s needs are such that mask-wearing is not appropriate, no medical certificate in needed.

What about pupils who have a hearing impediment?

For those who rely on lip reading as a means of communication, visors should be considered, the guidance states.

Schools are asked to use their judgement in such cases.

So is it still mandatory?

Yes, but there is more leniency now to take into account the various ways in which some pupils may struggle with the new measure.

The guidelines are not statutory, but like existing rules on face masks for secondary students, schools are required to implement them.

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