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School mask wearing rules to be relaxed, says education minister

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Pressure group Us For Them Bermuda handed out stickers that say "Worn Under Protest" against mandatory mask wearing for children at school among other regulations (Photograph Supplied by Us For Them Bermuda)

Younger schoolchildren will no longer have to wear masks in classes from Monday, the House of Assembly heard.

Diallo Rabain, the Minister of Education, said that only pupils from Primary 4 up will be asked to wear the face coverings.

He told MPs: “I can announce that while we are in the midst of reviewing the mask-wearing guidelines, as of Monday, February 21, all schools will be able to revert to the mask-wearing policy of Phase 2.

“That is, only students from P4 up will be required to wear masks in classrooms.

“Some will ask why only those younger grades and not everyone else.

“It was recognised the critical nature of our younger students learning requiring them to see mouth movement.”

He added: “As I stated, the mask-wearing mandate is currently being reviewed and will be revised as necessary moving forward which should lead to less mask-wearing in certain situations.

“Additionally, we will continue to listen to suggestions from our parents and incorporate those into moving forward.”

Mr Rabain said that it was possible to search the internet and find a study that supported any view on mask-wearing.

He added: “The facts remain, the use of masks limits the spread of coronavirus.

“Our goal to keep schools open not only aids our students in their learning but also aids our parents in their ability to work.”

The minister said that a "delicate balance“ must be struck.

He added that he was “sorry to disappoint those who sent the e-mails claiming ‘ … most private school students are expats …’ as if these facts do not apply to them”.

Mr Rabain said: “If teachers are positive, they will have to quarantine.

Diallo Rabain, the Minister of Education (File photograph by Blaire Simmons)

“If enough teachers are positive and on quarantine, schools cannot open. Then we are back to square one.

“Regardless of if the school is public or private, these facts remain.”

The education minister said that since a press conference this week he received many e-mails about removing all restrictions from schools immediately.

He told the House: “Two e-mails were particularly disturbing as they gave a glimpse into the mindset of some of our citizens and a lack of understanding that we are all in this together.

“The recurring theme of these more recent e-mails is demanding that there be separate guidelines put in place for public and private schools.”

Mr Rabain said that one e-mail read: “ … most private school students are ex-pats and don’t live in multigenerational households the DOH [Department of Health] is trying to protect. You can’t put public schools and private schools in the same basket, as the demographics are different, the union issues don’t exist …”

He added that a second e-mail said: “ … the Minister of National Security, Renée Ming, just said recently that children as young as eight years old are being recruited into gangs now. This is not surprising considering they’ve been in Bermuda public schools for the last two years of their lives since they were six years old. When you have had no consistent home or school environment for two years, the safety net and belonging of a gang is pretty enticing …”

Mr Rabain said: “It saddens me to read comments like this, as it does highlight the two Bermuda mindsets some of our citizens harbour and perhaps only whisper when surrounded by like minds.”

He added: “For professionals working in our country, to think it was acceptable to sit down at a computer and send e-mails essentially trying to claim that only a specific type of student can be found in the public school system is appalling.

“In any regard, I am confident mindsets like this will not disrupt or dissuade the majority of us from doing what is in the best interests of finding the right balance for our children, our educators and our country.”

The minister said that, after an Education Emergency Measures Committee meeting as well as talks with unions, the Molecular Diagnostics and Research Laboratory and health officials, it was decided that there will be a staggered return to public schools next week after coronavirus testing.

He explained that the EEMC discussed the revision of phases for schools and added that it was expected any changes would be “connected to individual school levels of adherence guidelines”.

Mr Rabain told the House that “beloved activities” such as sports days — including parents as spectators — and graduations will return soon “barring any more Covid outbreaks”.

The minister added that quarantine requirements for close contacts of pupils who test positive for the coronavirus will also be revised.

He said: “It is being proposed that vaccinated students, recently recovered positive students, and unvaccinated students who participate in the twice-weekly antigen or weekly saliva screening programs will not be required to quarantine if considered a close contact to a positive student.

“This represents a move forward from the previous policy requiring all close contacts to quarantine.”

* To read the minster’s statement in full, click on the PDF under “Related Media”.

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Published February 19, 2022 at 7:57 am (Updated February 19, 2022 at 8:02 am)

School mask wearing rules to be relaxed, says education minister

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