Updated at 10:55 am
The Department of Education has issued new advice to schools which stresses that children in third class and above should not be excluded from schools “in the first instance” for not wearing masks.
As reported in The Irish Times, schools should engage with parents and then, if no progress is made, an inspector from the Department of Education will be contacted.
According to the new guidance, if a school agrees with a parent that a mask is not appropriate for the child, then no medical certification for exemption is needed.
The guidance has been issued to change previous rules that unmasked pupils in third class and upwards will be refused entry to their school if they do not have a medical certificate for proof of exemption.
Students who have breathing difficulties or other relevant medical conditions are exempt from wearing masks. A student who is unable to remove their mask without help is also exempt, as well as children with special needs or those with intellectual or developmental disabilities, mental health conditions, sensory concerns or tactile sensitivity.
The new rules on masks for children comes following recommendations from Nphet. All children aged nine and over must wear masks on public transport, in retail and other indoor settings.
Guidance for schools also details that visors should be considered where masks present an impediment to communication for students with a hearing impairment.
The Department of Education has said it recognises that wearing a face mask for long durations can be “challenging” for young children. Therefore, schools have been advised to plan for regular breaks and facilitate children taking a break outdoors where possible.
Where students are eating lunch at their desks or taking a drink during class they do not have to wear a mask. Masks are also not required when students are singing, playing a musical instrument or during PE.
“Physical education should be outdoors if the weather permits. Indoor spaces should be ventilated well,” the Department of Education said.
If classes are mixed with students from third class and lower classes, only the students from third class must wear masks.
Nphet has advised that the wearing of face masks for children is being introduced on a temporary basis and is subject to review in mid-February 2022.
The principal of a national school in Co Tipperary says there was full compliance at her school this morning with mask wearing.
Louise Tobin, principal of St Joseph’s in Tipperary town, told RTÉ radio’s Today with Claire Byrne show that there had been great relief among teachers and principals at the withdrawal of the requirement that children not wearing masks be excluded from school.
It was something with which she was not comfortable, she added. As a principal she did not ever want to exclude a child from school. This was now a “softer approach” with a more sensitive use of language, she added.
Masks did not now have to be worn in the yard during break or when singing or playing instruments indoors provided there was good ventilation and the children were one metre apart, she said.
The speed with which the new mask wearing measures had been introduced last week had raised many practical questions, added Ms Tobin. There always had to be a lead in time with young children, and she had seen some levels of anxiety and self consciousness among some children.
Ms Tobin said she had explained to the children that the masks were needed to keep them safe in school.
There had been full compliance with mask wearing this morning apart from a few children who forgot their masks, which the school then provided. They were adult masks as child-sized masks were sold out.
St Joseph’s did not have any Hepa filters, she said. They had five C02 monitors for a staff of 15, but there was very good ventilation in the school with windows and doors open for a thorough flow of air.
Anything that was advised to keep classrooms safe would be welcomed by principals, she said.
-Additional reporting by Vivienne Clarke