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Sunday 1 October 2023 Dublin: 16°C
Julian Behal Photography via Education Minister Norma Foley (file photo).
# Covid-19
Students who refuse to wear face masks will be sent home from secondary schools, Norma Foley says
The Education Minister has said all pupils must wear face masks, unless there is a medical reason not to.

EDUCATION MINISTER NORMA Foley has said pupils who refuse to wear a face covering, other than for medical reasons, will be sent home from secondary schools.

Foley said “each school operates by its own rules, but the schools are aware that it is mandatory to wear the masks”.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Prime Time, Foley said children who don’t obey the rule will be sent home “unless a child has a particular ailment or a particular issue from a medical point of view that would mean that they’re not in a position to wear a mask”.

“Everybody’s expected to wear the mask, unless there is a medical dispensation,” she added.

Foley accepted there will be some difficulties in teaching a class while everyone is wearing a face covering, but said it is necessary.

“I do appreciate it is not the easiest situation but, I have to say to you, we are in unprecedented times.

“We are living through Covid, we are living alongside Covid, and we must take the public health advice that is available to us, and the public advice is telling us that it is best practice that students and teachers would wear face masks.”

When asked why schools in some other countries have made masks mandatory in school corridors but not classrooms, Foley said her department was operating based off advice from the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET).

“That’s the recommendation of NPHET, and we are doing all that we can to ensure that our school environment stays as safe as it possibly can.”

Foley said experts have stated that schools by their nature are “essentially very, very safe places” and “what we have to look out for, or what we have to manage really, is what’s happening in the outside environment”.

During the interview Foley also said she could not determine what could close down a school in terms Covid-19 cases and outbreaks.

School closures 

“That would be very presumptuous for me to even determine what public health would decide because every case would be individual, as it is in every workplace.

“Public health will make that decision on the basis of the contact-tracing that they will do … Is the school contacted to say that the child is not in school today and has taken ill? Has the child taken ill within the school confines or whatever? There’s a whole variety of variations,” she explained.

Foley thanked schools for their cooperation with the department as they prepare to reopen in the coming week. She said €160 million of a €370 million fund has been paid out to schools to help them “repurpose” areas in their buildings and buy items such as hand sanitiser.

Some schools have sacrificed computer rooms, home economics facilities and fitness spaces in a bid to ensure a safe reopening.

Principals, staff and parents have raised concerns about how schools will operate when they reopen. 

Judi O’Boyle, Deputy Principal at St Joseph’s Secondary School in Rush, Co Dublin, told “People are worried, everybody is, and as much as any parent wants their child to come to school, they’re also saying ‘how?’

“In light of the recent measures, they’re saying how come there can be a maximum of six people in one space but in schools there is going to be [a lot more].

“It’s about returning to schools safely and sustainably and for us that has been our key objective. We need to create an environment in this school which is as safe as it can possibly be for every person that is in here.”

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