Don’t exclude pupils who refuse to wear masks – Scotland’s education secretary

Pupils should not be sent home if they refuse to comply with new guidance making face coverings mandatory in corridors and on school transport, Scotland’s Education Secretary has said.

John Swinney announced updated guidance for schools making it mandatory for pupils and staff to wear masks because of the “difficulty” of physical distancing in “crowded corridor environments”.

But he rejected the idea that pupils should be sent home if they fail to wear a face covering, when asked whether he agreed with the suggestion by the Scottish Secondary Teachers’ Association (SSTA) at the Government’s coronavirus briefing.

“We’ve got to make sure that the wearing of face coverings in schools becomes essentially a habitual part of school life,” he said.

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“In our guidance, we make it clear that young people should be encouraged and motivated and required to do that, but it should not result in exclusion from school if they don’t do that.

“I don’t agree with the SSTA that young people should be excluded from school if they’re not wearing face coverings, but I do think schools need to build up the cultural understanding and awareness of the importance of wearing face coverings as something that is done to protect all of the school population – staff and pupils alike.”

The new rules, which came into effect on Monday, are “precautionary judgments” based on World Health Organisation advice and concerns from schools since they reopened two weeks ago, Mr Swinney said.

Explaining the decision, Mr Swinney said: “These are areas where mixing between different age groups is more likely, increasing the potential for transmission of the virus.

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“Experience and feedback have demonstrated that coding and close contact in these areas is more likely and then voices may be raised, resulting in greater potential for the creation of aerosols and the scope for effective ventilation is often less.

“For school transport, the adoption of an approach to face coverings applied to children and young people aged five and over will be consistent with the current approach on public transport.”

Face coverings will not be required in classrooms, but any children or staff wanting to wear a mask should be allowed to do so.

He added that schools should have a “contingency supply” of face coverings available for anyone who does not have their own or who forgets to bring one to school.