A SCHOOL has defied the Prime Minister by making it compulsory for students to wear face masks at all times when it reopens next week.
In a letter sent to parents, Jy Taylor, head teacher at Twynham School in Christchurch, said the four-week trial was because it is “heavily oversubscribed” with 1,800 students and social distancing could not be maintained.
Mr Taylor said: “Every classroom is full with students. The physical size of our school and of our classrooms mean that we cannot create significant space between students, and our corridors, despite the impeccable behaviour of our students, can be crowded during transitions.”
Mr Taylor admitted the introduction of compulsory face coverings “may not be a popular decision with students and we do have some concerns about their ability to communicate in the classroom”.
But he said it was felt that they “will reduce the rate of transmission”, adding: “It is our duty of care to do everything we can to keep students, their families and our staff as safe as we can.”
The letter goes on to explain that if a student catches Covid-19 then it will lead to groups of students having to self-isolate, or even the whole school being forced to close.
Mr Taylor said: “Students have already missed too much of their education and we should do all that we can to keep our school open to all students.”
He was also concerned about students passing on the virus to parents, grandparents and staff.
The decision to make face coverings mandatory was a reversal of earlier advice to
students indicating they would not have to wear them at all on school grounds.
But Mr Taylor said he had changed this as there were too many “unknowns” in regards to rates of transmission once schools reopen.
The school is opening from Monday but with staggered starts for different year groups throughout the week.
Twynham’s decision on masks has angered many parents and goes against what the Prime Minister outlined when talking about pandemic precautions schools needed to take.
Boris Johnson said that masks should be compulsory at all times only in educational establishments that are in local lockdown areas.
To make children in other schools wear them all the time was “nonsensical”, Mr Johnson said last week, adding: “You can’t teach with face coverings and you can’t expect people to learn with face coverings.”
Head teachers have been given “flexibility” to introduce masks in their schools, but official guidance is that pupils do not have to wear face coverings in the classroom.
Some parents reacted furiously to Twynham’s decision, with one writing on social media: “This is an unbelievable and an awful decision. Masks do not protect and give a false sense of security.”
Another wrote: “Masks shouldn’t be forced in class. It will ruin the learning experience; you may as well be having online lessons still.”
One mum said she feared her child would become ill if they had to wear a mask during school time, saying: “I hate wearing one, it makes me feel claustrophobic, hot and I find it hard to breathe.”
Other parents pointed out that their children had already been mixing with friends during the lockdown but would now have to wear a mask when sitting beside them in school.
But some parents welcomed the rule, with one saying: “This decision has not only given me some peace for letting my daughter go back and be possibly exposed to Covid, but for her, her anxiety has been put a little more at ease knowing she has some protection herself and that it will be some protection for me when she comes home every day.”
Another said: “I fully support Twynham School’s decision. I genuinely believe that none of their decisions have been made lightly. I know it will not be ideal but I would rather my children are protected, as far as possible, as it could have a more far-reaching and detrimental effect.”
Other schools in the Hampshire and Dorset area are not asking students to wear face masks all day. Most are advising that they must be worn only in communal areas.
At Priestlands, in Lymington, the advice on their website is that: “Schools have the discretion to require face coverings in secondary schools in communal areas where social distancing cannot be safely managed.
“Priestlands will not be requiring students to wear face masks and will be asking all students to remove masks once seated in lessons.”
Students at Arnewood in New Milton are also only asked to wear them in communal areas and toilets.
At Highcliffe School a letter from head teacher Patrick Earnshaw stated: “Our assessment is that the local BCP Covid infection rate at present is sufficiently low that face masks do not need to be worn all the time and we hope this never becomes necessary.”
Students are required to wear them only in communal areas and when a staff member cannot social distance from them.
At Hounsdown School, Totton, pupils are required to wear face coverings in corridors
and other “busy” communal areas.