I propose to take Questions Nos. 371 and 382 together.
My Department received advice from the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) on the use of face coverings in educational settings. It is a requirement for face coverings to be worn by teachers, staff in schools and students attending post primary school. However, public health advice also provides that cloth face coverings should not be worn by any of the following groups:
- any person with difficulty breathing;
- any person who is unable to remove the face-covering without assistance; and
- any person who has special needs and who may feel upset or very uncomfortable wearing the face covering, for example persons with intellectual or developmental disabilities, mental health conditions, sensory concerns or tactile sensitivity.
A medical certificate must be provided to the school where an exemptions is sought on the above grounds. There is no capacity for schools to deviate from either the requirement to wear face coverings or the exemptions that apply. Students in these categories can continue to attend school as normal while observing arrangements in place to protect themselves though regular hand hygiene, maintaining physical distancing and the application of respiratory hygiene and cough etiquette.
Staff who have concerns in relation to the control measures in place in a school are advised to consult with the Lead Worker who can represent their concerns to management or staff may wish to engage directly with management to address any concerns they may have.
Further information for parents and students/pupils on the wearing of face coverings including the proper use, removal and washing of cloth face coverings is available via the link: https://www.gov.ie/en/publication/a04fc-advice-for-students-and-their-families/. Information is also set out in the Covid-19 response plans for primary, special and post-primary schools available at www.gov.ie/backtoschool.