The Department of Education has rowed back on controversial directions which said that pupils who refuse to wear masks should be refused entry to primary schools. New advice issued on Monday morning stated that children in third class and above should not be excluded from lessons “in the first instance” for refusing to wear a face covering.
Schools have been urged to “engage pragmatically and sensitively” with parents, and in incidents where no progress is made then the department will provide further support.
The fresh advice comes after primary schools were sent instructions last Tuesday evening to refuse pupils in third class who went to school with no masks.
There was widespread criticism over the language used in the memo and that there was no lead-in time for schools.
The new guidance issued on Monday states that parents are encouraged to “work with schools in a spirit of partnership and co-operation”.
Louise Tobin, principal of St Joseph’s Primary School in Tipperary, welcomed the new guidance.
Ms Tobin, who is also a member of Irish Primary Principals’ Network (IPPN), said: “The information that came out late Tuesday evening was suggesting that if children didn’t comply or their parents didn’t wish them to comply with the mask-wearing, then they would not be allowed entry to school.
“That was something that we didn’t feel comfortable with. We needed further explanation on how indeed were we going to manage this. At the end of the day we would never want to exclude a child from their education and from school.”
She said the department has used a more sensitive approach.
“Without guidance, we didn’t really know quite what to do,” Ms Tobin told the Today with Claire Byrne programme.
“Children do not need to wear their masks when they’re outside, which is good to know, that they can have a break from their masks during their breaktime and their lunchtime.
“We don’t need to obviously wear masks while we’re having our lunch during class, that would be impossible.
“We don’t need to wear masks if we’re outdoors for PE, and if we’re inside, well, then there has to be good ventilation and we keep a one-metre distance.
“We don’t have to wear masks while playing sports or singing or playing an instrument.”
She added: “With young children there always has to be the lead-in, you can’t ask young children to manage or deal with something overnight.
“I imagine a lot of children went to bed on Tuesday night thinking all was fine, and woke up Wednesday morning to be told they had to wear a mask.
“I certainly could see levels of anxiety amongst the pupils that were maybe self-conscious about wearing the mask.
“Adults need to explain to them that this is to keep us safer in schools.
“I’m very happy to say that I have full compliance this morning.”
She also said that schools have not secured additional funding to buy extra masks for primary school children.
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