Coronavirus: Face coverings for teachers and students introduced

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Face coverings should be mandatory for pupils and teachers at post-primary schools, the head of a teaching union has said.

Coverings are recommended for corridors and other communal areas of NI’s post-primary schools from today.

Education Minister Peter Weir issued the guidance last week after taking advice from the chief medical officer and chief scientific advisor.

Schools in NI reopened last week with most pupils returning to classrooms.

However, the head of a teaching union has said face coverings should be “compulsory”.

Justin McCamphill, from NASUWT, told BBC Radio Ulster’s Good Morning Ulster programme that “it is not good enough” that face coverings are being “strongly recommended”.

“We need to move from strongly recommended to actually making sure these measures are compulsory in schools and are carried out in schools,” he said.

Deirdre O’Kane, principal of St Patrick’s and St Brigid’s College in Claudy, County Londonderry, said the guidance “hasn’t been clear”.

“The news had broken that it was going to be mandatory, that it was a requirement for children to wear face masks in post-primary schools – when the guidance letter came in it was just recommending it,” she said.

“So there is a lack of clarity whether or not children are obliged to wear the masks or whether it is down to personal choice.”

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Teachers have called for more clarity on the rules on face masks in schools

In a statement issued last week, Education Minister Peter Weir said he was “recommending” that “pupils and teachers wear a face covering in corridors and other communal areas of post-primary schools from next week”.

The introduction of face coverings in Northern Ireland followed a similar move in Scotland, with England adopting the policy in recent days, reversing an earlier position

Mr McCamphill said his union was supporting the move but also questioned why it was not introduced earlier.

“We would ask why it is coming now at the last possible moment,” he said.

“Schools have been having to prepare for this over the weekend, for tomorrow morning.”

Mr McCamphill highlighted the potential risk of outbreaks in schools and said the challenges would be around ensuring guidance was followed.

“I suppose we are at a position where we don’t know what is going to happen,” he said.

“The challenge at the moment is to make sure the guidance that is out there is actually put in place and we have concerns that the guidance doesn’t have enough enforcement behind it.”

‘No zero risk options’

Meanwhile, the Republic of Ireland’s acting chief medical officer has cautioned there are “no zero risk options” for reopening schools.

Pupils in the state began to return last week, with further schools reopening on Monday and Tuesday.

Dr Ronan Glynn made the comments in an open letter to parents and guardians of schoolchildren on Monday.

He said the decision to reopen them has “not been taken lightly”.

“There will be cases of Covid-19 among children over the coming days and weeks, as there have been throughout this pandemic to date,” said Dr Glynn.

“But when this happens our public health teams in the HSE will respond and liaise closely with the school involved and ensure that all necessary measures are taken to protect other students and school staff.”

BBC News