Pressure group questions mandatory masks in classrooms
A new pressure group yesterday questioned Covid public safety policies that affect schoolchildren – including an insistence on masks in classrooms.
Us For Them Bermuda was set up last week to give children “a voice” and ensure that “their interests are given higher priority in Government’s policies”.
The group spoke out after the Government announced that public school pupils from Year 4 up would have to wear face masks for the planned return to the classroom last week.
Face-to-face lessons were later postponed because of an increase in Covid-19 cases, but the mask rule sparked a wave of protest from angry parents. A petition asking that children be allowed to remove their masks when seated at their desks attracted more than 600 signatures.
Tania Targett, a mother and a founding member of Us For Them Bermuda, said Government policies had caused concern.
Ms Targett said: “It became clear that the lives of children in school were to be quite restricted, regardless of whether Bermuda has community transmission of the virus or none at all.
“This strikes many parents as unjust, given than adults are enjoying more and more freedoms following the vaccination campaign.
“The mask mandate was particularly disturbing as it laid out no criteria or target dates to allow children to unmask at school.”
Ms Targett added: “As Bermuda’s children enter their third school year of educational disruption, parents have grave concerns about some of the restrictions being placed on children and the effects on their education as well as their mental and physical health.
“We believe the children need a voice and would like to see their interests given higher priority in the Government’s policies.
“Many parents have tried to approach the Government directly and have been dismissed, or even ignored.
“We hope by forming Us for Them Bermuda, we will be in a stronger position to advocate for our children.”
Ms Targett highlighted overseas studies that showed children were at least risk from the virus.
She claimed other factors – such as the importance of in-person learning – were not given enough weight.
Ms Targett said: “We have not heard a balanced conversation highlighting potential harms of long-term masking of children.
“And the hindrance these masks present to communication in the classroom has a significant negative effect on their education.“
She also questioned why children were being treated differently from adults – who are generally at greater risk from infection yet are allowed to remove masks in some situations.
Ms Targett said: “We believe if adults can remove their masks in a restaurant, bar or office, children who are trying to learn in school should receive the same considerations.
“The health department has claimed it extended masking down to younger years because the children under 12 are not eligible for vaccination.
“However, according to statistics released last week by Public Health England, even given the Delta variant, children are a less risk from serious Covid than a fully vaccinated adult of any age.”
She claimed: “Bermuda’s priorities seem very skewed when bars and restaurants are open and cruise ships are visiting but the children cannot attend school.”
Ms Targett said other safety measures in schools, such as blanket quarantines imposed on individual classes, removal of activities like music and restrictions on sport, were also “of great concern”.
She added: “We don’t believe the evidence available to date supports such a drastic action as masking children all day in the classroom.
“If government has evidence to support this, we would like them to publish it as well as any risk assessments they have done.”
Ms Targett added: “The most egregious part of the policy is that it extends all year even if there are no cases on the island for 28 days. We don’t see how anyone can support that.
“Simply saying ‘we know masks work’ is not producing evidence.
“Bermuda has had high mask compliance for 17 months and still experienced significant outbreaks.”
But Ms Targett said: “We are in a significant outbreak now and we can understand Government might want to use maximum caution at the moment.
“Parents and children are part of the community and no one want to see hospitalisations as high as they are.
“But when this outbreak fades, we would like to bring everyone to the table and re-evaluate the policy.”
Us For Them Bermuda can be contacted through its Facebook page or by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.