Weekly Poll – COVID-19: Face Coverings in Schools (Week beginning 31 August)

Each week Disability Equality Scotland send out a poll question to our members on a topical issue.  For the week beginning 31 August 2020, we asked a question about Face Coverings in Schools.

Results

Do you have any concerns about the use of face coverings in schools and on school transport across Scotland? 

  • YES – 13% (43 respondents)
  • NO – 87% (291 respondents)

Comments

Respondents identified the following main themes and key concerns.  We provide verbatim comments where appropriate to illustrate strength of feeling or personal experience.

Supportive of Face Coverings

Most respondents (87%) are not concerned by the introduction of face coverings in schools. Evidence suggests that face coverings can help reduce the spread of COVID-19. In school environments it can be challenging to maintain physical distancing and face coverings can help provide protection for the wearer as well as those around them.

“If it keeps my grandchildren and their teachers safe, I think it’s a sensible precaution”

“If it means children can continue their education and reduce the potential risk of COVID then it is the right thing to do.”

Exemptions

Face covering exemptions are in place for pupils with a health condition or disability that would cause difficulty, pain or severe distress or anxiety to the wearer. Some respondents were concerned that pupils who are exempt from wearing a covering may be subjected to bullying.

“I am worried if people are picked on because they can’t wear a mask due to a disability.”

“People getting abused in shops for not wearing coverings. This will filter down to schools.”

At Disability Equality Scotland we have produced an awareness poster to highlight the exemptions that are in place. We have also produced exemption cards to make people feel more confident when out in public. You can download our poster and exemption cards from our website: www.disabilityequality.scot/face-covering

“Please make sure exemptions are made clear.”

“Exemption awareness and posters should be put around the schools and on the buses.”

“We need to make sure exemptions are well communicated to bus drivers, teachers, pupils and all parents.”

Communication

Several respondents were concerned by the impact of face coverings on pupils with hearing impairments. Face covering exemptions are also in place for communicating with someone who relies on lip reading and facial expressions.

“I would be concerned about the impact on those affected by deafness and the challenges navigating communication.”

“How are kids who rely on facial expressions meant to communicate with their fellow pupils?”

“Masks will make it difficult for pupils and staff who need to see mouth or face to allow comprehension and understanding of what people are saying. Masks also reduce clarity and volume and will put pupils and staff who have gearing loss at a substantial disadvantage and cause them additional stress and isolation.”

Affordability and Availability

Concerns were raised about the affordability and availability of face coverings, with one respondent suggesting that schools should be distributing them to pupils free of charge. The Welsh Government recently committed more than £2.3 million to provide free face coverings for all learners in secondary school and further education settings: https://gov.wales/funding-for-face-coverings-for-secondary-school-and-further-education-learners

“They need to provide coverings for children whose parents can’t afford them and for when they leave the house without their face covering.”

School Transport

There were specific concerns about the use of face coverings on school transport. One respondent highlighted that the school bus in their local community is shared with the general public, which could potentially pose a risk with younger people mixing with elderly citizens who are at greater risk of developing severe or critical illness if infected with the virus.

“In rural areas everyone has to use the same bus, children, shoppers’ commuters. The council says they have no money to subsidise any extra buses so badly overcrowded buses will have to continue.”

“I am concerned that the compulsory wearing of face masks on school transport will not be enforced.”

Conclusion

The vast majority of respondents are supportive of the use of face coverings in schools and on school transport. Exemptions are in place for people with certain disabilities and for communicating with someone who relies on lip reading and facial expressions. Concerns were raised about the potential for pupils who are exempt from wearing coverings from being bullied.  It is vital for schools to distribute clear guidance on why some pupils are exempt, which can be further highlighted through awareness posters. Disability Equality Scotland has awareness posters and exemption cards that can be downloaded from our website: www.disabilityequality.scot/face-covering

Disability Equality Scotland, September 2020

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