Face facts | 

Government approves masks for pupils from third class up - with some exemptions

The same exemptions will apply to primary pupils including: a person with difficulty breathing who cannot wear a cloth face covering or a visor; any person who is unable to remove the cloth face-covering or visor without assistance; any person who has special needs and who may feel upset or very uncomfortable wearing the cloth face covering or visor.

Guidance will be issued to schools this evening. Photo: Stock image

Katherine Donnelly

Primary pupils from third class up will be required to wear face masks until February, the Cabinet has agreed.

The Department of Education will issue guidelines to schools later this evening, which will also include what exemptions will apply.

The new rule, which was recommended by Nphet last week, is to take effect immediately, and will be reviewed in February.

Wearing a face-covering is already compulsory for post-primary students, other than in certain medically-certified circumstances.

There will also be exemptions at primary level, some of which will require medical certificates, but in other cases the principal will have discretion.

Medical exemptions will apply to:

* any pupil with difficulty breathing or other relevant medical conditions

*any pupil who is unable to remove the cloth face-covering or visor without assistance

*any pupil who has special needs and who may feel upset or very uncomfortable wearing the cloth face covering or visor, for example pupils with intellectual or developmental disabilities, mental health conditions, sensory concerns or tactile sensitivity.

However, schools have also been told that they are best placed to identify those children whose complex needs are such that the wearing of face covering may not be possible for them, and to discuss this with parents as required.

“In such circumstances a school may not require medical certification to provide an exemption to the wearing of face coverings. In other circumstances where a medical certificate is not provided that person (staff or pupil) will be refused entry to the school,” it states.

Pupils from third class and up on the primary transport scheme will also be required to wear face masks/coverings subject to the exemptions above.

The guidance says parents should be advised to obtain face masks for their children which fit properly and are comfortable for the child to wear.

In the event that a child forgets, loses or damages their masks during the course of the school day, the school should have a sufficient supply to replace the mask.

The guidance also states that

*information should be provided by schools on the proper use, removal, and washing of face coverings and it gives a link to advice on this.

*all pupils should be reminded not to touch the face covering and to wash or sanitise their hands (using hand sanitiser) before putting on and after taking off the face covering.

*face masks/coverings should be stored in a designated space, for example, in an individually labelled container or bag.

*cloth face coverings should be washed after every day of use and/or before being used again, or if visibly soiled.

*Face masks/coverings should not be worn if they are wet. A wet cloth face covering may make it difficult to breathe.

Where schools have mixed-year classes, only children from third class up will be required to wear face coverings.

While there is widespread support from parents of primary-aged pupils for mask wearing not all parents are happy and some have said that they will not send their child to school with a face covering

Although wearing a face covering will be a requirement for third class up, it is expected that principals will be given some time to bed in the practice.

The move is being introduced as part of the latest suite of measures to combat the spread of Covid-19.

It comes as incidence of Covid among 5-12 year olds, particularly those aged nine and over, continues to rise and is now the highest in the community.

In the 14-days to midnight Sunday November 28, 11,702 5-12 year olds tested positive with Covid, representing 19pc of all cases in the country.

That was up from 11,105 (18pc of cases) in the two weeks to midnight Thursday November 25 , which, in turn was up from 8,870 in the fortnight to the previous Thursday. In the 14-days to midnight last Thursday, there were 11,105 cases in that age category, up 25pc, from 8,870 in the fortnight to the previous Thursday

An antigen testing regime for primary schools introduced yesterday, saw more than 7,000 requests to the HSE for test kits, on foot of cases confirmed in schools.

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