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Mask exemptions low despite high applications, as schools start back

Year 9 Nayland College students Ella Lindsay, left, Baylee Templeton, Miller Hinschen and Isla Harris start their high school journey wearing masks, under the red setting of the Government's COVID-19 protection framework.

Martin De Ruyter/Stuff

Year 9 Nayland College students Ella Lindsay, left, Baylee Templeton, Miller Hinschen and Isla Harris start their high school journey wearing masks, under the red setting of the Government’s COVID-19 protection framework.

Mask compliance at schools was high with only a handful of students exemption, as school started back in Nelson under the red setting of the Government’s Covid-19 protection framework.

Nayland College Principal Daniel Wilson said of the 320 (year 9) students back at the high school on Tuesday, a day after the city’s Anniverary Day, three had exemptions.

All the other students appeared to be complying with the Government requirement for staff and students in years 4 -13 to wear a mask inside school, he said.

The college was following Ministry of Education guidelines to check people had legitimate exemptions, he said.

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STUFF

Stuff spoke to parents and pupils outside Cashmere Primary Te Pae Kererū on Monday, the first day many students had to wear masks.

“We’re checking off exemptions via a business centre. It’s a really quick and easy process, we’ll pop it in our system and we’re giving the students a lanyard to wear so they don’t have to keep asked why they’re not getting a mask.

“We’re trying to keep the process as simple and non-confrontational as possible.”

“A couple” of parents had questioned the procedure, but the vast majority of parents were onboard with it, Wilson said.

At Nelson College, all of the 250 or so Year 9 students at school who were supposed to be wearing a mask, were wearing one, headmaster Richard Dykes said.

Six or seven had an exemption, which the school deans were approving, he said.

“We need a medical authorisation or something such as a disabled persons or something similar, or it could be done through our learning support coordinator.

“We’re not setting the bar that you’ve got to have it signed off by [Director-General of Health] Ashley Bloomfield.

“We’re just trying to work with parents… as long as there’s a legitimate reason, that’s fine.”

Nayland College year 9 students Ella Lindsay, left, Baylee Templeton, Miller Hinschen and Isla Harris wear face masks at the college in Stoke, Nelson.

Martin De Ruyter/Stuff

Nayland College year 9 students Ella Lindsay, left, Baylee Templeton, Miller Hinschen and Isla Harris wear face masks at the college in Stoke, Nelson.

The school would enforce mask use like it would the school uniform, on the ministry’s advice, Dykes said.

While the school would have masks available for students who didn’t have one this week, it wouldn’t be issuing masks next week, and it could become a disciplinary matter if a student who wasn’t exemption repeatedly refused to wear a mask, he said.

The told schools last week while some adults and children would be exempted from wearing a mask, including those who have a disability or health condition, it was aware that the exemption card process was being abused by some families who did not want their child wearing one.

A student or staff member could be supported not to wear a mask if they had an exemption card or a letter from their medical practitioner or health provider, or the school had agreed that mask wearing was not practicable, it said.

The Disabled Persons Assembly NZ (DPA) urged the ministry to give schools further guidance about “good faith” conversations they could have with parents about exemptions.

Chief Executive Prudence Walker said the public health order was based on a high trust approach.

“Efforts to try and enforce exemptions are hugely problematic.”

The DPA was not processing applications for mask exemptions for school students as it didn’t have the capacity to deal with an influx in applications, she said.

It had received between 5000-8000 requests for exemptions since the Government announced the requirement to wear masks in schools – about 1000 a day.

But it also wasn’t the DPA’s responsibility, as schools had a direct relationship with the Ministry of Education, Walker said.

People who were exempt from wearing a mask were not required to present an exemption card or a medical certificate, under the Government’s Covid-19 guidelines.

They were exempt if they had a physical or mental illness, condition or disability that made wearing a face covering unsuitable – and people who said they met the criteria but didn’t, were “breaking the law”, Walker said.

People abusing exemptions put those who were exempt at risk, she said.

“Wearing a mask is much like vaccination.

“Not everyone will be able to get to vaccinated or wear a mask, but if everyone who can do that does, then there is lower risk, and we are all as protected as we can be.”

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