The Department of Education has rowed back on rules for mask wearing among primary school children.

Last week it advised that all children in 3rd class and above wear a mask – with the exception of those with a medical reason or condition.

It said that children not complying should be sent home – a view reinforced by Education Minister Norma Foley on Newstalk Breakfast.

Speaking last Wednesday, she said: “There has to be absolute clarity as to how the school operates.

“There is absolute clarity that there is a requirement and a recommendation from public health that for the benefit and protection of children, that those from 3rd class up would wear the masks.

“Students who do not comply, and do not have a medical basis, will be asked to stand down from school”.

However in updated advice, issued on Monday, the Department of Education says children should not be “excluded by the school in the first instance.”

It adds that schools should engage “pragmatically and sensitively” with parents who object to their child wearing a mask in class.

It says the department will also engage with schools to offer “guidance and support to reassure parents” and help schools resolve any issues.

But it adds that where significant issues have not been resolved locally, contact should be made with the Department of Education – and an inspector will “provide further support.”

NPHET had recommended the wearing of face masks/coverings by children aged nine years and above on public transport, in retail and other indoor public settings – as was already required for children aged 13 and over.

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