10 Things You Didn’t Know About Facemasks in Schools

Dear Safe Ed,
I’m a Secondary student who has been wearing a Cambridge mask at school (these are like FFP2’s). There are actually about 10 of us, and our head teacher wants to make us stop. She’s decided that there will be no facemasks worn from September because she feels it “impacts communication.” She also says, “it’s okay to be a bit anxious,” but expects us to comply.
Please help. What can we do??
—Florrie M.

Dear Florrie,

Thank you for getting in touch. We often get queries like yours, so we sat down with @CleanAirClassrm, @johnsnowproject and @GoodLawProject to put together these 10 things you probably didn’t know about facemasks in schools:

1. Facemasks don’t make students withdrawn and less communicative

In 2021, a UK High Court ruled the belief that mask-wearing presents physical and psychological risks to children is not justified by medical or epidemiological evidence. 

The judge said these claims “do not represent universal scientific and medical views as to the scientific and medical merits, disadvantages and dangers of the wearing of masks in schools.”

Image description: SAGE EMG Recommendation. In context of Omicron, 15 December 2021. “In the current circumstances it may be necessary to reconsider the wearing of face coverings in places where the balance of risks & benefits did not previously support it, for example in primary school classrooms.” #KidsCanWearMasks

2. Facemasks don’t hinder children’s spoken language or comprehension

The way neurotypical people communicate is diverse. Students can pick up cues from each other through sound, gestures, intonation and eye expressions. Many parents, caregivers and teachers are unaware they have these rich multi-modal resources at their disposal. 

If your neurotypical teachers would still like to see your lips, despite being able to understand you, the school can purchase these FFP3 masks with vision panels.

Or they can download this free poster created by the UCL’s Psychology, Language and Education team: Communicating while wearing a face covering.

3. Legally, your school can’t ban you from wearing a mask

Legal advice from the Good Law Project states that government doesn’t have the power to ban the use of facemasks in schools, and it follows that schools do not have these rights either.

Most people at school can wear masks to help keep infection rates low, reducing risks to vulnerable people and anyone whose support needs mean they can’t wear a mask. However, the UKHSA states that children under three may not wear masks.

4. School must show that you’re safe to go without your mask 

Can the school demonstrate a satisfactory risk assessment for banning a known public health policy—your choice to wear a mask in crowded, enclosed spaces where clinically vulnerable people are at risk? And in the absence of masks, can your school show what they’re doing to protect clinically vulnerable people from infectious people entering the premises?

5. It’s still your school’s responsibility to manage the risk of Covid

The government still expects students to be safe in school and on out-of-school trips. Under 1. Responsibilities: schools must ensure they meet their health and safety duties, considering Covid 19 as “one risk amongst others in relation to health and safety risk assessments and managing risk.

6. HSE in the workplace still applies to school leaders

Your head teacher must give a reason they believe masks are no longer necessary for school employees’ and students’ safety, identifying the most at-risk. See government guidance, point 2. Leadership.

7. Your school’s emergency plan must still consider covid spikes

Refer to government guidance, section 8. School security and emergency preparation. Your head teacher’s procedures must include ‘Public Health Incidents,’ for example, a flu pandemic. And indeed, a Covid wave, when infection rates are sky high.

8. Schools can’t ban gear designed to protect the wearer

FFP2 and FFP3 respirators are not just “face coverings.” The Health and Safety Executive recognises them as evidence-based protection. You have the right to wear them for self-protection against “Airborne Hazards.”

9. Schools must lower your risk of breathing virus in

Refer your head teacher to the government guidance headed, “Let fresh air in.” Classrooms are crowded and poorly ventilated, and viral particles can remain suspended for some time when there are people who might be infectious. It is your choice to wear your facemask as an additional measure.

10. What can I do?

Write a polite letter to your head teacher explaining why you’ll continue to wear an approved and recognised mitigation when mixing indoors with members of other households.

Contact your local Public Health Director immediately if the school tries to prevent you from wearing your facemask. Alert them of non-compliance to health and safety regulations and discrimination against students by not allowing you the choice to protect yourselves.

You can also notify OFSTED of a discriminatory practice due to age or health status. And appeal to the HSE because risks are not being identified correctly, and you’re being prevented from protecting yourself with no scientific basis. 

Still facing challenges?

Please reach out to our friendly advocates here on the website or tweet us on @SafeEdForAll_UK.

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