masked class | 

Kids without facemasks will be sent home from school, Minister warns

'And we have always, in the education sector, followed the recommendation of public health'
Minister for Education Norma Foley (Brian Lawless/PA)

Minister for Education Norma Foley (Brian Lawless/PA)

Neil Fetherstonhaugh

Children who are not exempt from wearing facemasks in school will be sent home if they do not follow the measure, Education Minister Norma Foley has warned.

Parents will need a medical certificate if they want any child from third class upwards to be exempt under guidelines issued to schools.

Minister Foley told Newstalk Breakfast the mask mandate “is for the benefit of all children in our schools from third class up”.

"This is an expert public health recommendation,” she said. “There has been extraordinary buy-in from students in our schools, and from parents and guardians, and from school communities as regards all of the public health measures that are required in our schools.

"And we have always, in the education sector, followed the recommendation of public health.

Official guidelines produced by the Department of Education state that any unmasked pupil who cannot provide evidence of an exemption will be “refused entry to the school”.

The rules, which come into effect on Wednesday, follow Government approval of Nphet (National Public Health Emergency Team) advice that pupils from third class upwards at primary school should wear face masks indoors.

In addition, children aged nine-plus will be required to wear face masks on public transport, in retail and other indoor public settings as is the case for children aged 13 years and over.

The measure is being introduced on a temporary basis and will be subject to review in mid-February 2022.

A medical certificate will be required to determine if a pupil is covered by an exemption which includes any difficulty in breathing or other relevant medical conditions.

Any pupil who is unable to remove the cloth face covering or visor without assistance will also be excluded from the measure.

Other pupils who will be exempt would include those with special needs and who may feel upset or uncomfortable wearing the cloth face covering or visor, for example, those with intellectual or developmental disabilities, mental health conditions, sensory concerns or tactile sensitivity.

Minister Foley added that she recognised that there will be issues of exception, where there may be difficultly for a child in terms of wearing a mask.

"A child with complex needs - for example - or if a child has any difficulty with breathing or other relevant medical conditions, there will be exemptions and they will be very clear exemptions in that respect.

"But I also want to say that this operates at second level, it has operated seamlessly at second level.

"And again there has been extraordinary buy-in from all concerned."

For those who don't wear masks without a medical exemption, she explains: "There has to be absolute clarity as to how the school operates.

"There is absolute clarity that there is a requirement and a recommendation from public health that for the benefit and protection of children, that those from 3rd class up would wear the masks.

"Students who do not comply, and do not have a medical basis, will be asked to stand down from school".

And she says this is part of other measures already in place.

"This is one measure in a suite of measures that operate within our schools.

"This is an additional measure - it is the expert medical view of public health and the NPHET here that it will be an additional protection for children.

"This is regarded as a protection for children - individually, collectively and the school community.

"We would wish that we were not in a Covid situation, we would wish that we are not in an emergency situation - and a challenging situation for our children and our communities - but we are."

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