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Six-year-olds in some composite classes told to wear masks

New Zealand

Pt Chevalier’s principal, Stephen Lethbridge, says that while some teachers, parents and children may be nervous about returning to school, they have measures in place to overcome any Covid challenges. Video / NZ Herald

Children under the age of six were asked to wear masks when returning to school this week.

A number of schools across the country with compound classes for grades three and four are making it mandatory for younger learners to also wear masks in the classroom.

The government requires students in grades four and above to wear masks, but more advice from the Education Department says schools can make a “practical decision” about managing a mix of annual levels between 0-3, 4 and above.

“We encourage you to take a cautious approach given the benefits of wearing masks to reduce risks,” said a Ministry of Education bulletin published last week.

They had four learning spaces with between 75 and 100 third graders and 4 children each, Heath McNeill, principal of Ormiston Elementary School, which runs the largest school in the country, said all of those children were expected to wear masks.

When the school reopened at level 3.2 for the last six months of 2021, McNeil said she consulted with parents and “made the most reasonable decision” that masks would be worn from year three and beyond.

“The community has been very supportive of this decision and I think it gives them as well as the children clarity about the expectations to keep everyone as safe as possible.”

And it wasn’t just those age groups who wore the masks, but between 30 and 40 percent of younger first- and second-year students also chose to wear them this year.

All of the school’s teachers, except for those who welcome newcomers, were also wearing masks. This was because it was very difficult to build a relationship with 67 new five-year-olds in an entirely new environment if they couldn’t see the teacher’s face, McNeil said.

A lot of Ormiston’s primary students were first or second generation New Zealanders, so wearing masks wasn’t a big deal because they used to do it when they visited their home country, he said.

McNeil’s advice to first-time wearers has been to experiment and find one that’s comfortable and easy to wear whether it’s fabric or disposable.

In a class where there were more fourth-graders than third-graders, it was not unreasonable for all students to wear them because they were a contact, said Stephen Lethbridge, president of the Association of Primary School Principals in Auckland and principal of Point Chevalier.

“In larger settings where you have innovative learning environments, it makes sense to wear masks also for younger age levels.”

Lethbridge said schools were dependent on parents to consider and follow established rules.

“It’s really important to note that we can teach kids to do just about anything. Effective use of masks and wearing masks is something we can focus on and teach kids how to use.”

Schools were also building in time throughout the school day to make sure kids got a break from wearing them.

Lethbridge school had mostly one-cell classes, but he was happy to see high compliance around mask-wearing from grade 4 and up when students returned to school this morning to start class.

He said that students who did not have masks were provided and a number of first and second year students also decided to use them to keep themselves safe.

Corona virus disease

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