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Unmasked students should not be excluded from school, department advises

The CEO of the Irish Primary Principals’ Network said there have been “high levels of compliance” among children wearing masks.

Image: Shutterstock/StanislavSukhin

Updated Dec 6th 2021, 12:27 PM

CHILDREN SHOULD NOT be excluded from school “in the first instance” when implementing public health measures around face masks, the Department of Education has advised.  

The Cabinet decided last week that children from the age of nine and up should wear a face covering in certain settings including schools on a temporary basis. 

This means all pupils from third class onwards are now asked to wear face masks. The measure had previously only applied to children aged 13 and older.

A new text of frequently asked questions sent to schools by the department this morning said that it is “not intended that any child will be excluded by the school in the first instance” when implementing public health measures.

The department had issued guidance last week which said that unmasked students would be refused entry to school if they could not prove they were exempt from the mask rules for medical reasons. 

Now, the department has advised that if issues arise with a child arriving to school without a face covering, “schools will engage pragmatically and sensitively with parents to explore any particular difficulties arising for an individual child”.

It said that “every effort should be made” to communicate the reasons behind wearing a face mask.

Some children, such as those with difficulty breathing or those unable to remove the face mask without assistance, are exempt on medical grounds from wearing the face coverings.

The document also reiterates advice that children do not need to wear face coverings while eating, drinking or playing sports. 

Páiric Clerkin, the CEO of the Irish Primary Principals’ Network, welcomed the clarity on certain practical issues outlined in this morning’s document. 

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“We’ve been calling for that since the information note on the wearing of face masks was issued to schools last Tuesday evening,” Clerkin told The Journal

He said the “sensible approach” has been taken in relation to children not needing to wear face masks when eating lunch or during P.E classes. 

“We will be continuing to focus on encouraging and supporting parents and pupils in relation to the measure [to wear face masks].” 

He added that principals have said there are “really high levels of compliance” among children wearing face masks in schools so far. 

“There has been great support from children and from parents,” Clerkin said.

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