Northern Ireland news

Face mask rule in post-primary classrooms to be lifted

Michelle McIlveen said after reviewing the guidance she had decided that this recommendation will be removed from March 21
Rebecca Black, PA

The requirement for pupils to wear a face mask in classrooms will end later this month, the Stormont Education Minister has announced.

Guidance currently strongly recommends that pupils at post-primary schools should wear a face covering in classrooms.

Michelle McIlveen said after reviewing the guidance she had decided that this recommendation will be removed from March 21.

“Their use at this stage will still be recommended in corridors, communal areas and on public and school transport, but they will no longer be recommended in classrooms,” she said.

Ms McIlveen said the number of Covid-19 cases among pupils was particularly high during January and much of February.

However, she said case numbers have showed a sustained decline since their peak and are now less than 30% of the case numbers at the peak.

“This is also supported by pupil absences due to Covid-19 having now reduced to levels not seen since before Christmas,” she said.

“I have been conscious of the need to balance the impact that the wearing of face coverings in classrooms has had on virus transmission with the challenges that wearing a face covering for long periods has brought to our young people and the disruption it has caused to their education.

“As a result of my review of this guidance, from 21 March, the recommendation that face coverings are worn by post-primary pupils in classrooms will be removed from my department’s guidance. Their use at this stage will still be recommended in corridors, communal areas and on public and school transport, but they will no longer be recommended in classrooms.”

Ms McIlveen said the change brings Northern Ireland into line with the rest of the UK and the Republic of Ireland where post-primary pupils are not recommended to wear a face covering in classrooms.

“I have been conscious of the differences in the case numbers across the other jurisdictions and have therefore been cautious in allowing more time for case numbers in schools here to fall further,” she explained.

“While I believe that we are at the point where the balance of relative risks is now in favour of removing this recommendation from guidance, Covid continues to circulate in our communities and in our schools and we should continue to reduce the risks of Covid in our schools through the range of other mitigating measures that remain in place to protect all pupils and staff.

“It is for this reason that if any individual wishes to continue to use a face covering in class, I would encourage them to do so.”

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