UK: Govt Says Masks in Schools Are Recommended – But Not Compulsory

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The British government is advising that secondary school pupils wear masks when they reopen — but that they cannot be made compulsory. Meanwhile, children as young as five are being told to wear masks at school, a report claims.

“In line with public health guidance, we are also now advising that face coverings should be worn in secondary school classrooms as well as in further and higher education settings unless social distancing can be maintained,” the Secretary of State for Education, Gavin Williamson, has said, adding: “Again, this is to help reduce transmission. The risk to children themselves is incredibly low. This is a temporary measure to support the return of schools and will be in place until Easter, when it is reviewed.”

But, according to operational guidance from the Department for Education (DoE) cited by the Telegraph, this advice should not be used as grounds to force masking on secondary school pupils, and “no pupil should be denied education on the grounds that they are not wearing a face covering”.

Some parents had been resistant to sending their children to school masked, with Molly Kingsley of the parents’ campaign group of parent UsForThem having said that, while it was “great that children will be back in school” from March 8th, “it should not be at any price – and certainly not at a price as grave as this.”

In a separate report, the Telegraph notes that primary schools, which teach children between the ages of 5 and 11, are now telling pupils to mask-up, as well. Citing several examples of schools punishing such policies, the rule seems to go against the Department for Education’s clear guidance that staff should wear masks in primary school when in proximity to other adults, this is not necessary when in a classroom with children and that “children in primary school do not need to wear a face covering”.

The claim that masks will not be compulsory in schools calls into question the consistency of government policy on schools, in particular the arguably much more invasive plan to subject pupils to regular coronavirus tests.

It has previously been reported that pupils will be required to take four so-called lateral flow tests in the opening fortnight of the school term — three at school and one at home — with twice-weekly at-home tests thereafter, with results reported to teachers on a regular basis.

This somewhat draconian system appears somewhat in question after the latest reports on masking, however, with the Telegraph saying that Department for Education guidance describes the lateral flow tests as “voluntary”.

Confusingly, the DfE adds that “Pupils not undergoing testing should attend school in line with your phased return arrangements” but that “Schools will have discretion on how to test [pupils] over that week as they return to the classroom.”

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