Schools say case numbers inform mask approach

Somerfield School. Photo: Star News
Somerfield School. Photo: Star News
Schools say Covid-19 case numbers will influence their approach to wearing face masks this term.

At the orange traffic light setting schools have to decide for themselves if masks are mandatory or optional and this week's return to school after the April holidays has seen some requiring masks indoors to reduce the spread of Covid-19, while many others are simply recommending them.

In Christchurch, Somerfield School Te Kura Wairepo principal Denise Torrey said masks were highly recommended but few children were wearing them.

"You know, three or four kids wearing a mask per space in the senior areas, not so much in the junior and juniors we had just a small number anyway because it wasn't compulsory for them but all our staff wore masks," she said.

"Now there's a bit of some staff are wearing masks in some situations and in the classes."

The government probably dropped the mask mandate too soon and her school would be keeping a very close eye on case numbers and other factors as air quality in classrooms, Torrey said.

"We're monitoring things like our CO2, we're monitoring the number of cases we've got in the school, we're monitoring what's happening in classrooms.

"It could change very quickly if the number of cases start to rise in our community we will definitely look to making a change if we need to."

Auckland's James Cook High School principal Grant McMillan said it retained a mask mandate and so far it was going well.

"We've retained masks for most inside activities in school and that's been well-received by students and community and also our staff as well. Masks are voluntary outside, so lunch-times, intervals, on the way to and from school, but even then we're still observing well over half of our students, even two-thirds of our students, wearing masks to and from school and around the school outside."

The government had been in a difficult position over the mask rules when it moved the country to the orange traffic light setting and the school's decision was based mostly on the wishes of its community, McMillan said.

"If we listen to medical experts and also the advice from the Ministry of Education, which is that masks should still be retained in school and used in classes, that's been an important background to our decision-making but what's led it has been our community's preferences and looking after the welfare and wellbeing of our students and our staff."

At another Auckland secondary school, Otahuhu College, principal Neil Watson said a lot of students were wearing masks even though they are not compulsory.

"Roughly about half of our students are wearing masks and staff and we're pretty happy with that. We've got a highly vaccinated population and we've got an older building so windows are well-ventilated and that. But the key thing is we've got students and staff taking individual responsibility," he said.

At Hamilton's Aberdeen School, principal Lesley Lomas, said masks were optional though staff had agreed to wear masks in shared spaces.

She was expecting teachers' mask-wearing would vary from week to week.

"It might depend on the number of cases we have in the school community, it might depend on how the teacher's feeling in terms of their own wellness. I've noticed this week quite a number of them not wearing them, out of choice, and that's because I think by the end of last term in the heat and everything they were happy to let them go for a time."

Lomas had no complaints from families about the move to optional masking for children in years 4 and above.

 

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