‘Not a change in policy’: Victorian students ‘expected’ to wear masks in school

Victorian students aged eight and over will be expected to wear masks indoors as part of new Department of Education advice, but schools are not being required to sanction children who fail to wear a mask.

A letter outlining the mask advice change — signed by the heads of the state, independent and Catholic sectors — states that it is “strongly recommended” that students aged eight and over wear masks when indoors.

Grace and Sarah wear masks to school in 2021.Credit:Paul Jeffers

The letter, which was sent to state school principals on Monday night, will be shared by both independent and Catholic schools on Tuesday, a Department of Education spokesman said.

“We are asking for your support in explaining to your child or children the importance of this simple step that will help keep our schools as safe as possible,” the letter said.

“We all appreciate how important it is for students to be back at school. This action will help make sure as many students and staff as possible are protected from COVID and other winter illness.”

Changes were also made overnight to the Department of Education’s school operational guide, stating it was the department’s “expectation” that students aged eight and over would wear masks when in class until the end of winter.

School staff are also expected to wear masks except in “teaching circumstances when clear communication” is needed.

The operational guide notes that schools are not “required or expected to sanction students or staff” who fail to meet the expectation around masks.

But schools are being expected by the department to communicate the push for all children eight and over to wear masks indoors, as part of a “collective effort”.

“Masks are not required to be worn outdoors but can be worn when physical distancing is not possible,” the operation guide said.

“This is because the wearing of masks is effective in reducing the transmission of COVID-19.

“This expectation should not constrain student participation in the full range of school activities, including music, sport and performances.”

A spokesman for the Department of Education said the altered messaging to parents and carers was “not a change in policy”, but rather an attempt to ensure families and schools were aware of the recommendations from the Health Minister as respiratory illness cases increase in Victoria.

“We know masks provide good protection against the transmission of COVID, so – while they’re not mandated – we’re strongly recommending all staff and students aged 8 and over wear them indoors at school,” he said.

More to come.

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