Communication around mask wearing in schools unacceptable

Aodhán Ó Ríordáin TD
01 December 2021

Raising the manner in which the guidance on mask wearing in schools was communicated to schools, Labour education spokesperson Aodhán Ó Ríordáin said the lack of proactive communication from the Minister to school communities and children is simply unacceptable.

Deputy Ó Ríordáin said:

“Schools have been taken aback by the manner in which the mask updated was issued. The tone and timbre of the message received lacked any sense of compassion or understanding of the situation. While a lot of families have already encouraged their children to wear masks in public settings, on the bus, in the shops, for some children this will be an entirely new departure. It may cause stress and anxiety to some children and the Minister should have been more proactive in abating those concerns.

“Like so much of the announcements from this Department throughout the pandemic, it is entirely divorced from the reality of what actually happens in schools. It is unrealistic for schools to turn up this morning and start to police mask wearing, with the serious threat that children could be “refused entry” for failure to do so. What sort of situation does this put our school staff in? It appears that there has been no research into what the legal implications of this are. Once again, school staff are feeling abandoned by the Minister.

“I am fully supportive of public health measures but schools and school communities need better guidance. Up until last week, schools were repeatedly told by this Minister and NPHET that schools were safe. For the last 18 months, mask wearing in primary schools was deemed unnecessary, so this overnight change will be a challenge for schools operationally. This communication made no reference to other solutions that experts are proposing like HEPA filters, which I find very surprising. It appears to be short term shifts in policy rather than taking a holisitic view of the situation.

“Opposition have been eager to work with government on all public health measures. Last night, the Minister should have provided some kind of video message for children and the school community expressing an understanding that they know this may be difficult and will be a change but that they would work with schools, children, families to make this work. Instead, schools received a cold, hard message to be immediately implemented.

“At a time of crisis we need leadership from those in government. The classic soulless communication from NPHET to schools only serves to further damage the good will between school communities and NPHET and government.”

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