School face masks guidance should have come sooner: Teachers’ unions

New guidance on face masks for schools should have been issued weeks ago, teaching unions have said.

Wednesday, 26th August 2020, 5:54 pm
Face coverings became ‘recommended’ in school corridors and communal spaces on Tuesday

On Tuesday, Education Minister Peter Weir announced the new guidance recommending face coverings for post-primary pupils in school corridors and other communal areas.

Both the Ulster Teachers’ Union (UTU) and the National Association of Schoolmasters and Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT) say that while teachers are “broadly supportive” of the move, they have criticised the timing of it.

Pupils returned to some schools on Monday – before the guidance was announced by the minister.

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UTU president Stephen McCord said: “We welcome this decision, of course, but it could have been introduced two weeks ago and saved much anxiety – not only among teachers but also pupils and parents.

“However, we believe the action on mask wearing should go even further, because the announcement from the minister failed to mention non-teaching staff in schools or give guidance to parents dropping off and collecting children from school.”

Mr McCord added: “These are all areas where people may not be able to socially distance, depending on the individual circumstances of the school, its location and lay-out.”

NASUWT official Justin McCamphill said: “Teachers are going to be asking why this is coming to them so late. Why is this happening after they are already in school?

“That does raise serious questions about whether the minister is following scientific advice, or whether it is political expediency because of what is happening elsewhere.

“I think teachers will be broadly in favour, and there would be a significant number who would want it extended, but I wouldn’t say that is universal.”

The principal of Limavady High School in Co Londonderry, meanwhile, has said some aspects of the guidance remain a “grey area”.

Darren Mornin told the News Letter his school’s policy on face masks had been developed alongside the neighbouring Limavady Grammar School and St Mary’s High School, Limavady.

“The key for Limavady and the Roe Valley area, we’ve all agreed that the use of face coverings was optional and a personal choice,” he said. “That’s been received well. This could change the dynamic on that but there’s a bit of a grey area because it’s still a recommendation.

“It could be like the shops. When they started it was a recommendation but then it became mandatory. For us, if it becomes mandatory how do we enforce it and if someone has an exemption do we have to ask for evidence?”

Ulster University, meanwhile, has told students and staff that face masks will be required during classes and lectures. The university is making the masks compulsory anywhere social distancing is impossible, with certain exemptions.