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Back To School

Secondary students: 'If you want us to wear face masks in the classroom, we'll do it'

Students at third level institutions have been advised to wear face coverings if they cannot maintain a distance of two metres.

LAST UPDATE | Aug 7th 2020, 11:15 AM

THE BODY REPRESENTING secondary school students has said those returning to school this autumn would have no problem wearing face coverings during classes, if public health officials issue this advice.

Earlier this week former HSE chief Tony O’Brien told Newstalk Breakfast that face coverings should be required in secondary school classrooms. O’Brien accused the Department of Education of “dithering” on the issue.

“It’s going to be a slightly odd situation where they’re going to have to wear masks to travel to school on public transport, then when they’re in situations which are likely to be equally crowded they will not be required to wear them,” he said.

Guidelines issued yesterday for third level students state that where two metre social distancing cannot be achieved, appropriate precautions such as face coverings should be used.

Current advice from the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) is that face coverings are not required in a school setting. However this could change as officials have been awaiting a report from the European Centre for Disease Control (ECDC) on the issue, which has now been published


The EDCD’s report examines Covid-19 in children and the role of school settings in transmission of the virus. It looks at the approaches various countries have taken around Europe in relation to school settings. 

Today, Health Minister Stephen Donnelly said the report has been “much anticipated” and that it will help inform Ireland’s public health experts advice on the reopening of schools.

The report noted that while very few significant outbreaks of Covid-19 in schools in countries examined have been documented, they do occur, and may be difficult to detect due to the relative lack of symptoms in children.

It also noted that available evidence indicates that closures of childcare and educational institutions are unlikely to be an effective single control measure for community transmission of Covid-19 and such closures would be unlikely to provide significant additional protection of children’s health, since most develop a very mild form of Covid-19, if any.

It suggested that if appropriate physical distancing and hygiene measures are applied, schools are unlikely to be more effective propagating environments than other occupational or leisure settings with similar densities of people. 

The report outlined that decisions on control measures in schools and school closures/openings should be consistent with decisions on other physical distancing and public health response measures within the community.

In its conclusions, the report said that “targeted measures in schools to increase physical distancing, improve ventilation and cleaning, hand-washing facilities and provision of personal protection, will probably mitigate the possible transmission of Covid-19 in schools”.

“[These measures] will be helpful in mitigating the impact of other respiratory infections during the approaching autumn and winter season, thereby reducing pressure on schools and healthcare,” it said.

The report did not issue specific recommendations regarding the wearing of face masks in schools, instead it outlined approaches taken by other European countries on the matter.

Face mask guidance

Yesterday, Acting Chief Medical Officer Dr Ronan Glynn said the Health Protection and Surveillance Centre (HPSC) is also looking at guidance on face coverings for teenagers.

The Irish Second Level Students’ Union (ISSU) has said pupils would not have a problem wearing face masks in class if public health guidelines determine they should.

“In terms of the union’s standpoint, we feel that if they are to implement things like this, students need to be constantly in the loop,” Matthew Colgan, secretary of the ISSU told

“It’s so important that there’s a strong line of communication between the board of management of schools and students as well as staff. 

hen it comes to the responsibility of wearing masks, I know there has been talk of concerns that students won’t be responsible or that they’ll act the maggot, messing around and refusing to wear them. Students are responsible and if there is correct communication there shouldn’t be a problem.

Colgan expects the guidance will require masks in classrooms and said lots of members he has spoken to are in “full agreement that if they are to be worn, then they are to be worn”. 

“They know it’s for public safety, their own safety and that of the fella or girl next to them and that’s what it’s all about. Lots of young people are living with grandparents or parents who are vulnerable and there are some who themselves have conditions that make them vulnerable,” he said. 

Martin Marjoram, president of the Teachers’ Union of Ireland has called on officials to issue any change to the current advice as soon as possible. 

“In terms of second-level workplaces, we require and have regularly been assured that public health advice will be updated as and when necessary and that all precautionary measures will be continually monitored and, where required, revised,” he said.

“In this context we will again raise the specific issue of face coverings with the Department of Education and Skills to see if the advice previously issued now needs to be revised.

“If the health advice in relation to the wearing of face coverings in schools does require revision, that must happen without delay as adequate time will be needed to ensure that procurement of the appropriate masks or visors is completed before the re-opening of schools.”

With reporting by Hayley Halpin

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