Two mothers of children with hearing difficulties have urged Education Minister Peter Weir not to impose the mandatory wearing of face coverings when pupils return to classrooms next month.
Lissa Stewart (33) from Ballyclare and Tory Richardson (36) from Newtownards fear their youngsters, who both have cochlear implants, will be left behind if teachers and students are forced to wear masks.
They say masks will make it impossible for the children to lip read what their teachers and friends are saying.
Lissa, whose four-year-old Penny is due to start at Ballyclare Primary School in September, says she is concerned about her daughter's future development.
"Penny lost her hearing when she was a year-and-a-half but we didn't know until her speech failed to develop," Lissa explained.
"With her speech delayed, she had her implants fitted last year so she had already lost quite a lot of development time, and then her nursery was closed for months due to the lockdown.
"It will be challenging enough for Penny entering school in terms of communication on top of all of this uncertainty around the virus. I'm concerned but I still want her to thrive as best she can and she needs an educational setting to do that.
"While Penny has the implants she still doesn't hear everything, so she relies on facial expressions and lip reading to piece together what's being said just like a jigsaw puzzle.
"I'm worried that she might not be able to follow what's being taught or form proper friendships if masks are imposed in schools, which could increase the risk of isolation or loneliness."
Tory's seven-year-old son Emmett was born profoundly deaf and attends the hearing impairment unit at Cregagh Primary School.
She said: "When Emmett started school he had hardly any speech or sign language and over the last four years he has really developed.
"He relies completely on lip reading and sign language to communicate. Obviously he has missed out on speech therapy, which he would have got in school over the past few months but for the lockdown.
"My main concern is getting Emmett back into school because he has missed out on so much and home schooling has been very hard over recent months due to his speech and developmental issues.
"He was in hospital recently and the staff had to wear face coverings, but at times he couldn't understand what they were saying, as they cause mumbling. If this was the case in schools he and his friends who also have implants will have real problems communicating if they can't see each other properly.
"If there have to be face coverings they would need to be clear visors so children with special needs aren't left behind."
The Department of Education said: "Current guidance for schools states that PPE, including the use of face masks, will only be required in a small number of cases. The department continues to update its guidance on an ongoing basis in line with public health advice."