Scottish Government consulting on wearing face coverings in high schools

The Scottish Government is consulting on recommending secondary school pupils and staff wear face coverings when moving around schools, Scotland’s First Minister has announced.

Nicola Sturgeon said Scotland’s Education Secretary John Swinney is in the final stages of consulting with teachers and councils on the issue.

She told the Scottish Government’s regular coronavirus briefing the recommendation would not include pupils wearing masks while in the classroom.

The move follows requests from some schools north of the border for pupils to wear face coverings.

Ms Sturgeon said: “We’re consulting on this specific measure because, firstly, mixing between different groups is more likely in corridors and communal areas – increasing the potential for transmission.

“Secondly, crowding and close contact in these areas is more likely and voices could be raised, resulting in greater potential for creating aerosol transmission.

“Finally, there’s also less scope for ventilation in these areas.”

She said decisions are yet to be made on whether the guidance would apply to school transport and that decision will be made in the coming days.

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.

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 when requested and on school transport.

Letter from Mr Croall. 21 August 2020.

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

The letter said the change “will help us further reduce the risk of transmission”.

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”.

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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.”

She said it could negatively affect pupils with autism, hearing impairments and asthma and raised concerns over mask provision for those from unstable households.

She said: “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.