Mask-wearing in schools for benefit of all children, Foley says

Children who have difficulties with masks should be evaluated by GP, Minister says

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

 

Mask-wearing in primary schools is for the benefit of all children, individually and collectively, Minister for Education Norma Foley has said.

From Wednesday, pupils from third class and up are required to wear face masks while in school, with exemptions available if a child gets a medical certificate from a doctor.

Under the latest Government advice, children aged nine and older are also required to wear masks on public transport, in retail and other indoor public settings.

Children who do not abide by the mask-wearing rules in schools without a medical cert can be refused entry.

However, the Department of Education has said schools can be flexible in the application of the rule for the first couple of days.

The Minister said the rule around mask-wearing had worked well at secondary school level, and there was no reason why it should not work in primary schools to protect the whole school community.

“It is the view that this is a measure that protects all,” she told Newstalk Breakfast. “It is a safety measure. And that is the scenario – that students who do not comply and do not have a medical cert will be asked to stand down from school.”

Asked if online teaching would be provided to the students sent home, Ms Foley said schools are operating and children can avail of that in the school setting.

Ms Foley said the “singular priority” was that schools should remain open, but everyone had to abide by restrictions so “the pressure could come off”.

She acknowledged that there has been “extraordinary buy-in” by parents, children and school communities with regard to all of the public health measures required in schools.

Asked if schools would reopen after Christmas, the Minister said she did not have a crystal ball, but that if people continued to reduce socialisation and to abide by public health measures then schools should be able to reopen.

Exemptions

On the issue of children who have difficulties wearing a mask, the Minister said there are exemptions and these children should be evaluated by their general practitioner.

“Every parent knows their child best,” she said, adding that if their child had a specific issue, such as glasses, then they should discuss it with their GP, who would be in a position to give expert opinion and provide a medical cert for the school.

“Specifically in terms of children wearing glasses, I think that will be evaluated by the GP,” she added.

Ms Foley denied that the Taoiseach and chief medical officer were giving mixed messages to the public.

The message from Dr Tony Holohan had been clear that everyone should reduce socialisation, and the Taoiseach had echoed the same message, she said.

This had been a consistent message, she added, and it now included younger children. Dr Holohan had asked “wider society” to reduce their socialising.