What teachers can do about parents’ mask threats

What teachers can do about parents’ mask threats

Schools have been receiving threatening letters from parents who refuse to let their children wear masks or use hand gel. 

And some have been seeking legal advice, Tesunderstands.

So how should schools respond to such letters?

Laura Berman, partner in Stone King’s education team, said the latest government guidance gives schools "an absolute discretion to require face coverings for pupils, staff and visitors".

She said: “Our advice to schools is that if [they] decide that’s appropriate to their school, and appropriate for their intake of pupils, then they should tie that policy into their uniform, behaviour and health and safety policy.

"And any breach of those policies, particularly if it’s tied in their behaviour policy, can be sanctioned accordingly."

It has been left up to the schools to decide on the rules that are appropriate to safeguard the welfare of everyone in their community, she added, meaning "everybody, all the children in the school, must therefore adhere to the school rules."

There will be certain exceptions that need to be made for some children.

This, Ms Berman said, includes those who "can’t put on, wear or remove a face covering because of a physical or mental illness or impairment or disability, or if there is a child/adult who speaks to or provides assistance to someone who relies on lip reading, clear sound or facial expression to communicate".

However, if there are no other good reasons for pupils not to wear a covering in line with school policy, then teachers and heads are "entitled to make that policy and pupils have to adhere to it".

Some parents have expressed fears that the Coronavirus Act gives school the power to detain children showing symptoms of the virus.

In this case, Ms Berman said schools should take time to explain to parents what the guidance says.

She summarised this guidance as saying: "If the child has symptoms they will be isolated according to the guidance, and whether there is another adult in the room is going to depend on the age of the child.

"And the school will call home and the child will then go home."

One of the letter templates being circulated by parent groups warns that hand sanitisers "can contribute to eczema, dermatitis and the active chemicals can be absorbed in through the skin and adversely affect health in the long term". 

It continues: "I do not consent to chemical hand sanitizer being used on [child’s name] and I have provided my own."

The letter also states that chemicals in products used to clean desks can be potentially carcinogenic.

Schools need to explain they are taking all appropriate precautions to ensure that sanitisers and cleaning products are safe to use, said Ms Berman.

She also said the use of hand sanitisers can be made part of the health and safety or behaviour policy of the school.

She added: “However, the notice I received...says that parents are going to provide children with their own hand sanitisers. That may well be acceptable for schools.”

How can these rules be enforced? Pupils should not be excluded for failing to wear a mask in schools, according to government guidance.

According to Julie McCulloch, director of policy at the Association of School and College Leaders, where there is a clash between parents' beliefs and school policy, good communication is going to be vital.

She said: “On the question of enforceability, it seems to us reasonable for schools to make the requirement to wear face coverings part of their behaviour policy and to expect students to comply.

"However, the government guidance outlines legitimate exemptions, and directs that nobody should be excluded from education on the grounds that they are not wearing a face covering.

"So, where there is a disagreement, discussion is likely to be the best way forward.”