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Coronavirus / Face coverings in secondary schools mandatory as of Monday

PUPILS and teachers in Shetland’s secondary schools will have to wear face coverings as of next Monday when moving around spaces like corridors and communal areas, it has been confirmed.

Guidance from the Scottish Government now also stipulates that all children aged five and over using dedicated school transport should do likewise, bringing it into line with rules for public transport.

The change in government policy on wearing face masks was first announced by first minister Nicola Sturgeon on Monday.

Exceptions may be granted for health reasons. Shetland Islands Council is expected to update staff, parents and young people once updated advice becomes available.

The SIC’s chair of the education and families committee George Smith said: “We take the safety of our young people very seriously, including on school transport, and we will obviously support the Scottish Government’s new guidance and will update everyone concerned as soon as possible.”

His council colleague Ryan Thomson, speaking on behalf of the Shetland transport partnership, ZetTrans, added; “ZetTrans is working closely alongside the council to determine the safest approach for all users of public transport, including school pupils. Their health and safety is paramount in our decision making.”

However, local MSP Beatrice Wishart, who is also the Scottish Liberal Democrats’ education spokesperson, said the changes to the policy on wearing face coverings in schools should have been implemented quicker.

“The education secretary [John Swinney] was slow off the mark with this policy and the reality on the ground has been outpacing his guidance,” she said.

“Schools took the initiative on face coverings between classrooms and on buses before ministers did.

“As we urged last week, it’s the right thing to do to introduce face coverings outside the classroom. Teachers, parents and pupils saw an opportunity to make their school day safer.”

Education secretary John Swinney said earlier on Tuesday that staff and students could continue to wear face coverings if they wish to, but that coverings will not generally be necessary in the classroom as there is greater scope for physical distancing.

However it remains the case that where adults cannot keep a two metre distance and are interacting face-to-face for a sustained period (about 15 minutes or more), face coverings should be worn.

The deputy first minister added: “We said that our guidance would be kept under constant review and, following updated scientific and public health advice and the experience of schools reopening, we are making changes that will apply from 31 August.

“Schools will be asked to ensure children and young people have clear instructions on how to put on, remove, and store face coverings. Any staff member or pupil will still be able to wear a face covering when they wish to do so.

“We want to continue to protect what we have achieved in suppressing the virus and re-opening schools, and to do the best for children in schools.

“Alongside this change to the wearing of face coverings, we need to reinforce the importance of maintaining high standards of cleaning, personal hand and respiratory hygiene and physical distancing, where possible. In situations where there is a local cluster, use of face coverings throughout the day may be required.”

Scottish Parliament election, 6 May 2021