Face masks at Edinburgh school ‘request, not obligation’, council says

Pupils who have been asked to wear face coverings at school are doing so as a “request by the school, not an obligation”, according to a local authority.

The move comes as a school in Scotland remains closed after a cluster emerged last week.

James Gillespie’s High School in Edinburgh welcomed youngsters back to classes on Monday with the decision for masks reportedly to be used when moving along indoor corridors between classrooms.

Face masks are also being introduced at schools in the Highland Council area – including Millburn Academy in Inverness and Grantown Grammar School, in Grantown.

But a City of Edinburgh Council spokeswoman told the PA news agency: “As per the current Scottish Government and city guidance, there is no requirement for pupils to wear face coverings while in our schools.

“However, schools may choose to construct advice based on consultation with their pupils, on what they find suitable for their individual school community.

“At this time the wearing of face coverings at James Gillespie’s is a request by the school, not an obligation.”

Parents of pupils from Millburn Academy were sent a letter on Friday informing them of the decision and where coverings would be worn – including in classes.

Letter from Mr Croall. 21 August 2020.

Posted by Millburn Academy Inverness on Friday, August 21, 2020

The letter says: “We are also making a change about our use of face coverings and feel this is an area which will help us further reduce the risk of transmission.

“As of Monday 24th August we ask that all pupils (except those who have exemption) wear face coverings in the following situations: On the school bus; At all times when moving to Information sharing or between classes; When using an indoor social space during break and lunchtime, except when eating; In class when asked to by a teacher or PSA.”

The sentiments of the Edinburgh local authority were echoed by Highland Council with a spokesman saying the “wearing of face coverings is not mandatory in schools settings”.

He added: “There is currently no widespread transmission of the virus in Highland, however there may be circumstances in some secondary schools, where physical distancing during movement between classes is more difficult due to the school layout, or there may be medical conditions which are assessed as an increased risk.”

“In such circumstances, schools should discuss any concerns with their Area Education Manager, the Parent Council and Students Council about whether it is appropriate to encourage some young people to wear face coverings at times.

“We are currently updating our guidance to head teachers, in collaboration with Public Health, to provide clarity on this matter and we will enable people to wear face coverings where they wish to do so.

“We will continue to be guided by Public Health, who lead on the local interpretation of national guidance and provide advice on local prevalence and risk.”

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A campaign group is now urging the Scottish Government and councils to rule out such measures, saying it would cause children more harm than good.

Us for Them Scotland has around 9,500 members with organiser Jo Bisset questioning the scientific evidence for wearing face coverings in school.

She said: “Everyone appreciates the health and safety of pupils and teachers has to be a priority but forcing children to wear masks when there’s little, if any, scientific evidence to support such a move could be hugely damaging.

“It could have an extremely negative impact on pupils with autism, hearing impairments and conditions such as asthma.

“We also have to consider those children from unstable households who simply won’t be sent to school with any mask, let alone one that is safe and effective.

“Parents want to get their children back to school and for that experience to be as normal as it possibly can be.

“Forced wearing of masks in the classroom, or when moving about the building, would not achieve any sense of normality for children who’ve endured quite enough in recent months.

“Parents want the Scottish Government and councils to rule out this move now so they can get on with assisting their children back into the school routine.”

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It comes as more cases were confirmed in the cluster surrounding Kingspark School in Dundee on Sunday night.

NHS Tayside said the number of positive cases had reached 22, with 17 of those members of staff, two pupils and three community contacts.

The school has been closed since Wednesday evening.

A single positive case was also linked to the primary 2A class at St Peter and Paul’s School in the city, with an additional positive case connected to Happy Times out-of-school club at Downfield Primary School.

Meanwhile, a member of staff and two pupils at High Blantyre Primary School have tested positive for Covid-19.

NHS Lanarkshire said adults and children connected to primary three or four had been asked not to attend class.

They will be offered testing on Wednesday and asked to self-isolate until they receive confirmation of a negative result.

All parents and staff of the school have been notified and the school will open as normal on Monday, with the health board saying there is currently no evidence to suggest there is transmission in the school.