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Monday 29 May 2023 Dublin: 9°C
# pushback
'This will not happen in my classroom': Online anti-mask teacher group say they will fight new rules
Many teachers in the group have said they will not comply with the new rules.

SEVERAL ANTI-MASK primary school teachers have formed a campaign group on Facebook to protest against children wearing face coverings in schools, with some deeming the pandemic to be a hoax and others saying the vaccine is an “experimental injection”. 

The Journal found several teachers, who are members of the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO), in the group and on Telegram saying they will not enforce the new guidelines.

The move comes as it emerged this week that children between the ages of 9 and 12 will have to wear masks in school and in certain public places such as shopping centres. 

There has been a some pushback from concerned parents ever since the idea was initially mooted nearly two weeks ago. Many have valid and legitimate fears about their child using masks, especially children with autism, asthma and learning difficulties. 

However, there is a large amount of work being done on social media to push an anti-vaccination and anti-mask agenda onto concerned parents, including on Telegram, a social network where many Covid deniers and far-right anti-vaxxers are active. 

The Facebook group for teachers, special needs assistants as well as other school workers has appeared in the last two weeks and is being promoted heavily by conspiracy theorist groups as well as far-right publications with thousands of followers. 

The group, which we are not naming, is headed by current, working primary school teachers, with some of them saying they believe the pandemic is not about health.

One of the group’s administrator’s posted on the page in the last week that this new mask rule for children is not about health – “instead it is about control”.

The group was formed on Facebook but its members have since attended anti-vax and so-called “freedom rallies” where they gave speeches to the demonstrators present. 

The group features advice on how to push back against the new rules. It also includes draft templates of emails which can be sent to various boards of education and management.

A protest which took place at the Dáil on Friday was heavily advertised on the Facebook group’s social media channels. 

Online videos

Teachers have also been taking part in videos shared on YouTube where they have been raising their concerns about masks and the pandemic.

Videos of them addressing crowds in Dublin earlier this year are available to view online on YouTube, as well as other streaming services. The teachers introduce themselves and give their opinions on the pandemic. 

“In my classroom, this is not going to happen,” a man who identified himself as a teacher in west Dublin says in one video. 

In another video, shared in the last two weeks, several teachers say they do not believe in masking children aged 9-12. This video features several people who introduce themselves as teachers and as being members of the anti-mask group in question.

One teacher says that when the “Nuremberg trials of 2040″ begin, she does not want to be a teacher who is on trial telling a judge that she “was only following orders”. 

“If you don’t do it now, the burden of guilt will be unbearable,” she says in the video. 

Another person in the same video, who we have identified as a working teacher, says that Ireland “needs to wake up” and that this “so-called pandemic” is not real. 

One of the main leaders of this group posted this comment on the Facebook page: 

This is NOT about health. This is about CONTROL. Your children will now be harassed in school by some (not all) teachers, SNAs and secretaries. They will be shamed and bullied, just as some staff members have up to now.

Why are people drawn to these groups 

A recurring theme among the many teachers we have found on Telegram and Facebook groups saying they will not adhere to the guidelines is that the INTO (teachers’ union) has not done enough.

The INTO is aware of these groups. Asked whether or not it was concerned about them, a spokesperson said: “In the midst of a pandemic, all risk mitigation measures set out by government and public health should be complied with in our schools.”

“It has been noteworthy that since March 2020 the vast majority of individuals in school communities have adhered to disease prevention and control measures recommended by public health for school settings.

“Specific questions on public health guidance for schools would be better directed to the Department of Education.”

The Journal sent the Department of Education a list of questions, asking it if it had any concerns regarding the anti-mask groups and what would happen if teachers did not comply with the orders. 

The department did not supply an answer to these specific questions. 

Instead, a spokesperson said: “The Department of Education has always been guided by public health advice in relation to the infection prevention and control measures appropriate for schools. Schools have been provided with guidance and with information for parents and children.

“Nphet recommendations for the wearing of face masks, further compliment the infection prevention and control measures in primary schools so that they can continue to operate safely for children and staff. These measures have been successfully implemented at post primary for some time. It is expected that the new measures will also be implemented successfully at primary level.

“Schools will take a practical approach over the next few days to communicate the new measures to parents. The measures are temporary and will be reviewed next February.”

Earlier this year, The Journal, alongside its investigative platform Noteworthy, published an investigation into the workings of the far-right in Ireland. As part of the Eyes Right investigation, we spoke to sociologist David Ralph about why people manage to get themselves sucked into a world of conspiracy theories.

Frustration and boredom has allowed conspiracy theories to bubble away under the surface, Ralph explained. 

He said certain old conspiracies, mixed with new and emerging medical interventions for Covid, have created a cocktail of suspicion and distrust among many in society.

“An example here are these conspiracy theories, the anti-semitic ones, claiming that the world is controlled by Jewish money, they have reemerged. The lockdown has certainly given the far-right and the conspiracy theorists the epiphany that the world really is being controlled by Jewish people. 

“In their minds, the lockdown is actually some sort of manifest destiny and they were right all along. I think the lockdown has been manna for heaven for these groups and so-called intellectual avant-garde. It provides them empirical evidence that they have been looking for and that they were right all along.”