Debate rages in Spain a year on over mandatory masks in schools

Children have complied with the measure but there have been dissenting adult voices

Pupils and teachers at Vedruna Angels School in the Raval neighbourhood of Barcelona in September 2020. Photograph: Lorena Ros/Getty Images

Pupils and teachers at Vedruna Angels School in the Raval neighbourhood of Barcelona in September 2020. Photograph: Lorena Ros/Getty Images

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Spanish schoolchildren have borne the brunt of Covid-19 restrictions ever since the beginning of the pandemic. The initial lockdown, among the strictest in Europe, saw children forced to stay inside for three months. On their return to school in September 2020, those over the age of six had to wear face masks.

Although the use of face masks in Spain has not been obligatory since June where social distancing is possible, in schools they remain mandatory. Although the regional government in Madrid has relaxed the rule, allowing them to be removed in playgrounds, few schools have yet introduced that change.

Overall, the mask rule for children has faced relatively little resistance.

“Almost all children over the age of six have worn masks without rejecting it, they’ve normalised it,” Mireia Orgilés, who is the author of a study about the psychological impact of the pandemic on young people in Italy and Spain, told El Diario de la Educación.

A major concern is communication, with masks making it more difficult to hear teachers or other children speak, as well as to understand them non-verbally

“If we explain it to them well, they can understand it and follow the rules. A lot of the time they can accept it more easily than adults.”

There have been exceptions, with some parents taking a stand against face masks. In Cáceres, two girls were given their own separate classrooms in September after their parents refused to allow them to wear masks.

The far-right Vox party has been the most vocal in opposing the measure for children; Llanos Massó, its spokeswoman in Valencia, has warned that “the imposition of continued use of face masks by children could be counter-productive and affect their development”.

A major concern is communication, with masks making it more difficult to hear teachers or other children speak, as well as to understand them non-verbally. This can be a challenge for smaller children with speech difficulties who need guidance to improve their pronunciation.

Recent outbreaks in schools have been a reminder of how easily the virus can spread among children. Earlier this month 347 children and staff from a school in San Cugat, in Catalonia, were quarantined and in Getafe, in Madrid, 178 people from the same school also had to be isolated.

Manuel Sampedro, president of the organising committee of the convention of the Spanish Society of Extra-Hospital Paediatrics and Primary Care, believes the masks should stay on for now.

“I think it’s the best option because it would be very difficult to go back and do it again,” he told Spanish media.

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