TIME TO MASK UP IN SCHOOL
But some say it’s too little too late
Youngsters will be made to wear face coverings in our schools from next week.
That was the guidance handed down from Holyrood on Tuesday as Scotland steps up its fight against the spread of coronavirus.
But for some, the decision has come too late, with many EK News readers saying the damage may already have been done.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon told the country on Monday that the move was likely – that was confirmed by her Education Secretary, John Swinney, on Tuesday morning. He said the new guidance would apply to all pupils aged over 12 and would come into effect from August 31.
Kids will also be expected to wear face coverings if travelling on school transport. Ms Sturgeon had previously said: “The best way to ensure schools can stay open safely is for all of us to play our part in keeping transmission rates in the community as low as possible.”
On Tuesday morning, Mr Swinney said: “It’s part of the general measures we are taking to ensure we keep pace with the emerging advice about how to keep our schools open and to keep our schools safe.”
The move means high school pupils across East Kilbride and the wider area will have to cover their faces in corridors and communal areas of secondary schools.
Face coverings will not be mandatory in classrooms and children in primary schools or nurseries are exempt from the ruling.
The government changed its tact on the matter in response to new guidance from the World Health
Organisation (WHO), who issued fresh guidance over the weekend saying that children over the age of 12 should wear masks.
The use of face coverings in schools here is currently voluntary, although some schools have started advising staff and pupils to wear them to help combat the spread of COVID-19.
Ms Sturgeon said there was more mixing between different groups of children in these areas, and that there was less scope for effective ventilation.
Pupils are also thought to be more likely to raise their voices in crowded places, increasing the risk of aerosol transmission of the virus.
The government is also said to be considering whether to make masks mandatory on school transport.
Councillor Margaret Cooper, leader of the Independent Group in South Lanarkshire, welcomed the decision, adding that it should have been in place earlier.
She told the News: “I think this is a welcome move for everyone’s safety.
“It is a pity that it was not introduced from the outset.
“Young people seem quite comfortable with the idea and it goes in with requirements out in the community.
“I would say we need our shops and takeaways to reinforce this step when young people are out at lunchtime in local takeaway shops. We need uniformity in approach.”
The decision comes as the News becomes increasingly aware of anecdotal evidence of high school pupils gathering outside schools in large numbers, without social distancing in place.
This was the concern of many when the Scottish Government announced it was to send our kids back to school at the start of this month without the requirement for social distancing.
One EK News reader told us: “I’m concerned about the return to school so soon.
“I made the mistake of going to Tesco’s in St Leonards at school out time and it was full of school kids without masks, standing in large groups inside and out the shopping area.
“They swarmed along the streets just like before the virus, absolutely no social distancing going on anywhere, apparently is the same at lunchtime – it made me very scared and uncomfortable.”
Taking to Facebook to comment on the First Minister’s announcement earlier this week, Clair Dorans said: “Pointless, when they go to the shops/takeaways for lunch they go in groups and there is no social distancing.
“Just seen a group of about 20 school kids at a wee deli in the village all standing outside chatting, not one of them had a mask on.”
A growing number of school pupils across Scotland have tested positive for COVID-19, with three pupils testing positive in High Blantyre Primary School.
Incidents have been flagged up at a number of schools further afield, but the government believes the infection has been transmitted in other settings such as house parties.
Scottish Labour health and social care spokeswoman, Monica Lennon, said she had been “inundated” with concerns from teachers and parents, who she says are “worried and confused” about the vague advice on social distancing and face coverings for school pupils.
She told the News: “School staff have voiced their safety concerns over lax social distancing rules and the use of face coverings for months now.
“John Swinney has been distracted by the SQA fiasco and has not kept up with international evidence on coronavirus in school settings.
“Ministers can’t keep making up rules as they go along and they must publish the evidence base for their decisions so this can be properly scrutinised.
“It’s also important that pupils from low income families have access to face coverings if needed.”
Both South Lanarkshire and East Renfrewshire councils said they would be ready to implement the new guidance.
A SLC education spokesman added: “We note the guidance and will work with our schools and transport providers to ensure compliance across our schools.
EK News reader, Joanna Mackillen, said on Facebook that COVID-19 “doesn’t do age, everyone can catch it” and that masks should be a definite “at school, on buses, at shops, and any public places”.
However, Jaymie Smillie said she was “not okay with this,” adding that if masks are necessary now, they “were two weeks ago when schools reopened”.
New guidance First Minister Nicola Sturgeon
Cover up Pupils will now wear masks in communal areas in high schools
Announcement Nicola Sturgeon