Mother ‘distraught’ at children unable to wear masks missing school, Dáil told

Ventilation experts disagree with Nphet stance on use of Hepa filters to cleanse air

Third class pupils at St Clare’s Primary School in Harold’s Cross, Dublin wearing facemarks in the classroom on Wednesday. School principals have called for clear and concise information to be provided in order to keep schools safe from Covid-19.  Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

Third class pupils at St Clare’s Primary School in Harold’s Cross, Dublin wearing facemarks in the classroom on Wednesday. School principals have called for clear and concise information to be provided in order to keep schools safe from Covid-19. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

 

A mother has been told that her two children, who she says are unable to wear face coverings for medical reasons, are not being allowed into school without a letter of exemption from a doctor, a Sinn Féin TD has told the Dáil.

Aengus Ó Snodaigh said the “distraught mother” contacted him to say one child has asthma and the other had undergone a nose operation and that they “cannot wear masks for the whole day”.

New guidance came into effect on Wednesday mandating the wearing of face coverings by pupils from third class upwards as a result of the high incidence of Covid-19 in the age group.

“Decisions taken by Government are now starting to affect parents and their children. Now, it’s not just willy nilly,” Mr Ó Snodaigh said.

“These are not people who have issues just with a mask. One of the children has asthma and another has had an operation on his nose. They cannot wear masks for the whole day. They’re not refusing to wear masks, but they can’t.”

The Department of Education said exemptions from wearing masks are available for students if they have a medical certificate. Those without a cert who do not comply with the rules face being sent home.

Refused

The Dublin South Central TD said the woman’s doctor had refused to issue certs for the children and that the Government needed to clarify how such cases should be handled.

“In this instance, where is the contact with the doctors, where is their understanding of what they’re being asked to do?” he asked.

“Where is the form that goes to the doctors around the country who are now being asked in droves by parents who have kids with issues, where is that in this instance?”

Earlier, the Irish Primary Principals’ Network (IPPN) said there needed to be “clear, consistent and concise information” on Covid-19 for school communities to ensure they remain open and safe.

The short gap between the mask guidelines being announced on Tuesday and coming into force on Wednesday morning was criticised by unions and Opposition politicians, who said schools should have had more time to prepare.

IPPN chief Padraig Clerkin criticised the failure of the department and public health officials to meet all the partners involved before introducing the mask wearing advice. He said all the partners involved should have sat around a table “to thrash out” the issues involved.

Mr Clerkin told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland that public health officials should monitor every possible mitigation measure needed to keep school communities safe. He said it was a difficult and challenging time for school principals, boards of management, teachers, children and their parents.

A bit odd

Meanwhile, the chair of the expert group on ventilation has expressed surprise that the State was “now taking advice from elsewhere” in relation to the issue and air filtration.

“It does seem a bit odd,” Prof John Wenger told RTÉ’s News at One.

Public health officials yesterday warned against “over-ventilating” classrooms by keeping windows open all the time.

The National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) also said hepa air filters have no role in preventing infections in classrooms and restated its belief that current high rates of infection among schoolchildren were the result of wider trends in the community rather than in-class transmission.

Prof Wenger said ventilation should be a priority and that when it was not possible, other measures such as filtration needed to be looked at. Hepa filters would work well in any situation where ventilation was an issue such as classrooms, which were high risk areas, he said.

“Hepa filters are great interim solutions because they help to remove the virus from the air,” he said, adding that the filters were the size of a suitcase and could be easily purchased. “You can put them in a room and they help remove the virus from the air.”

Contrary to what Nphet member Prof Philip Nolan had stated, he said the filters could cleanse all the air in the room, not just the area around the filter.

Orla Hegarty, assistant professor in the UCD School of Architecture, earlier said Nphet had “misstepped” in not introducing the filters in schools, given physics had proven that filtration prevented the spread of the virus.

“We know it works,” she told RTÉ Morning Ireland.