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Parents fear pupils will face ‘mask apartheid’ if they refuse to wear face coverings at schools

Children have been told if they refuse to wear masks when they return to school, they may be kept apart from their friends.

Parents have criticised the plans to segregate those pupils who wear masks and those who do not when they return to schools on March 8, with one parent branding it ‘mask apartheid’.

Last week, it was announced secondary school pupils will have to wear masks if they cannot maintain social distancing in No10’s ultra-cautious ‘roadmap’ out of England’s third Covid lockdown.

Though masks and regular tests are strongly encouraged, officials insisted they are not legal requirements and students should not be ‘denied education’ as a result of non-compliance.

Pupils will also be tested three times at school and once at home for two weeks after schools reopen on March 8, before being asked to test themselves twice a week at home and report the results to their teachers.

But ministers have said both these measures are voluntary, and that students must not be kicked out of the classroom if they refuse to comply.

Parents have branded some schools’ measures to ensure face masks are worn in secondary schools as ‘appalling’ and ‘mask apartheid’ as a number have warned of measures including isolating those without masks and banning them from certain activities such as PE and drama

The guidance concerned many parents with some preparing to keep their children home if they would be forced to wear face masks. 

Although government guidance states that no child should be denied education, some schools are preparing to implement strict measures that include separating or even expelling students who refuse to wear a mask.

In a letter sent home to parents, the Stonehenge School in Amesbury said: ‘Students who do not wear face coverings may be asked to sit near open doors or windows and must understand that their peers may not wish to sit with or work with them’.

According to the Telegraph, the Warwick School, in Redhill, told parents ‘alternative arrangements’ would be made for maskless students.

Meanwhile, a school in Rayleigh, Essex, said those without masks would not be allowed to eat their packed lunch in the canteen and instead will be made to eat outside regardless of the weather, the newspaper reports.

Students without masks at another school have been told they will have to use a separate entrance and may not be allowed to sit with friends in the canteen or take part in group activities such as drama and PE.

Government issued guidance which said masks should be worn at all times in schools where social distancing cannot be maintained but has said no child should be 'denied education'

Government issued guidance which said masks should be worn at all times in schools where social distancing cannot be maintained but has said no child should be ‘denied education’ 

One parent said: ‘I am appalled and feel blackmailed into accepting these measures so that my children can partake in exercise, class learning and their social groups at school.’ 

Some schools have threatened to bar students from lessons if they turn up without a mask.

Catmose College in Oakham, Rutland, said it would ‘reluctantly resort to imposing sanctions’ and added: ‘Any student not wearing a face covering without the permission of the College will not be allowed to attend lessons due to the risk it will cause others.’

Meanwhile, students at Park Academy in London have been told they may have to ‘wait outside’ if they arrive without a mask until one is brought to them or they may be sent home to get one themselves.

A secondary school in Worcester told parents that students who did not wear masks, including those who are exempt, will be required to sit two metres from other students and will be moved to a separate room if that is not possible. 

One parent has accused schools of creating a ‘mask apartheid’, before adding: ‘If you start treating children differently, it will impact on their ability to learn.

Nick Gibb

Rob Halfon

Rob halfon (right) demanded ministers introduce ‘definitive regulations’ that avoid all doubt for parents, pupils and teachers. But Schools minister Nick Gibb (left) replied: ‘We said clearly that we strongly recommend students in secondary schools wear face coverings in classrooms’

‘The Government needs to be very clear that no pupils should be discriminated against in this way’. 

Allyson Pollock, a professor of public health at the Newcastle University, told the Telegraph that schools were contravening children’s rights.

She said: ‘This is not informed consent, its coercion and other harms are emerging as a result – psychological trauma, isolation, segregation stigmatising children and its a form of abuse and harassment and intimidation of children and parents.’

She added that there is ‘no evidence’ that wearing masks in class prevents transmission.

On Monday, the Government was warned the guidance may cause ‘mask anarchy’ as it is left up to schools to determine how best to implement it.

Tory MP Rob Halfon, the chairman of the Education Committee demanded ministers introduce ‘definitive regulations’ that avoid all doubt for parents, pupils and teachers.

Speaking in the Commons on Monday he said: ‘Given that the schools minister (Nick Gibb) said that the wearing of masks by pupils on the school estate is advisory guidance, if a pupil or a parent on behalf of a pupil objects to comply with the wishes of a headteacher to wear a mask, are we not in danger of creating mask anarchy?

Government announced it's roadmap out of lockdown with schools heading back on March 8

Government announced it’s roadmap out of lockdown with schools heading back on March 8

‘Enormous pressure is being put on head teachers in Harlow because of the confusion, like Vic Goddard, head teacher of Harlow Passmores School.

‘Is it not better to come down firmly on one side or another and provide clearly definitive regulations to help teaching staff?’

Mr Gibb responded: ‘Well we said very clearly that we strongly recommend students in secondary schools to wear face coverings in classrooms where it’s not possible to keep social distances between pupils.

‘And we’ve also said for quite a number of months that where in communal areas of a school it’s not possible to maintain social distance, then staff and adults and students in secondary schools should also wear face masks.’

Last week, Justice Secretary Robert Buckland told Sky News said it was right to let schools determine how they implement the guidance.  

He said: ‘The position is it is recommended that masks are worn. I think it’s right for the Government not to be too prescriptive about this.

‘We need to trust headteachers and staff to ensure that not only their school is safe, but that the practicalities are understood.

‘It’s right to give that element of flexibility. I think they can be trusted to make the right decisions for the circumstances they find.’


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