Unmasked pupils will be ‘refused entry to school’

Medical certificate required to certify children aged nine-plus are exempt from rules

New rules have come into effect that primary school pupils from third class upwards should now wear face masks indoors. We visited St. Clare’s Primary School, Harold’s Cross, Dublin to see how pupils and teachers are adapting. Video: Bryan O'Brien

 

Parents will need a medical certificate if they wish to avoid any child from third class upwards having to wear a face mask under guidelines to be issued to schools.

Official guidelines produced by the Department of Education state that any unmasked pupil who cannot provide evidence of an exemption will be “refused entry to the school”.

The guidelines are not underpinned by law – so children will not be committing an offence to refuse a mask – but, like the existing rules on face masks for secondary school students, schools are instructed to enforce them.

The rules – which come into effect on Wednesday – follow Government approval of Nphet (National Public Health Emergency Team) advice that pupils from third class upwards at primary school should wear face masks indoors.

In addition, children aged nine-plus will be required to wear face masks on public transport, in retail and other indoor public settings as is the case for children aged 13 years and over.

The measure is being introduced on a temporary basis and will be subject to review in mid-February 2022.

A medical certificate will be required to determine if a pupil is covered by an exemption. These exemptions include:

Any pupil with difficulty breathing or other relevant medical conditions;

Any pupil who is unable to remove the cloth face covering or visor without assistance; and

Any pupil who has special needs and who may feel upset or very uncomfortable wearing the cloth face covering or visor, for example, pupils with intellectual or developmental disabilities, mental health conditions, sensory concerns or tactile sensitivity.

The guidelines state that schools will be best placed to identify those children whose complex needs are such that the wearing of a face covering may not be possible for them, and to discuss this with parents as required.

In these circumstances, a school may not require medical certification to provide an exemption to the wearing of face coverings.

Where there are mixed classes – for example, second and third classes in a single classroom – schools should note that only children in third class and above are required to wear face masks.

As per previous advice, however, parents of other children who would prefer that their children wear a face mask are not precluded from doing this.

Parents will be advised that they obtain face masks for their children which fit properly and are comfortable for the child to wear.

In the event that a child forgets, loses or damages their masks during the course of the school day, the school should have a sufficient supply to replace the mask as a back-up face covering or where required on an ongoing basis.

Mixed reaction

The decision on masks has prompted a mixed reaction from parents’ groups and teachers.

Áine Lynch, National Parents Council Primary chief executive, said the 95 per cent of the thousands of messages it had received from parents over recent days were opposed to the mandatory wearing of face masks.

“Many parents have significant concerns around this. They are worried about the developmental effects it will have on children. They have been through a lot already. They include children with anxiety and other additional needs which might not be officially recorded,” she said.

“The worry is that this becomes a very divisive issue and difficult for schools to manage. We’re calling for flexibility and for the rules to be advisory rather than mandatory.”

The Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO) said it acknowledged the decision which followed an “ever-deteriorating public health landscape” with almost 20,000 positive cases among primary school-aged children over the past month.

The union said it was imperative that Government communicate arrangements for any additional measures clearly and consistently to school communities.

“Similarly, it is essential that any guidance accommodates students with additional needs who, on medical grounds, will not be able to wear a face covering when in school,” it said.