Now is not the time to remove guidance for secondary school pupils to wear masks in classrooms after a hike in cases, Nicola Sturgeon has said.
Scottish Tory leader, Douglas Ross, has repeatedly pushed for the rules to be relaxed, and again urged the First Minister to change the guidance on Tuesday as she updated MSPs on Covid-19.
But, Ms Sturgeon said, the under-15s were the only age group where the number of cases rose by 41% in the seven days up to Tuesday.
“We are not, at this stage, recommending any immediate change to the Reducing Risks in Schools guidance.
I know young people want to see the back of them as soon as possibleNicola Sturgeon
“However, this is being kept under close and regular review for schools and the early learning and childcare sector.
“The Advisory Sub-Group on Education is meeting again today.
“We will consider carefully any recommendations it makes, and continue to seek its advice on issues such as groupings within schools, and the requirement for secondary school pupils to wear face coverings.
“On the issue of face coverings, I know young people want to see the back of them as soon as possible.
“But I also know that many young people understand and agree, especially when cases in the younger age group are rising, that face coverings do provide important protection.”
Questioning the First Minister, Mr Ross said: “Right now, adults can sit in workplaces and pubs without face masks, but pupils in the classroom are still required to wear them.
“The First Minister isn’t even following public health advice on this.”
Mr Ross quoted Dr Christine Tait-Burkard, of Edinburgh University, who said earlier this month that masks in schools could be scrapped as early as February, as well as the national clinical director, Professor Jason Leitch, who said the “day is coming” for the end of the guidance.
“I hope the time is coming when that won’t be necessary,” the First Minister said in response to the Scottish Tory leader.
“But anyone with a degree of responsibility who, in the face of what I have reported today – a 41% increase in cases in the under 15 age group – who says that this is the moment to say that young people no longer need to wear face coverings, frankly, isn’t showing responsibility.”
The First Minister said it was important to take decisions responsibly on the removal of restrictions and not “pluck dates out of mid-air”.
Daniel Wyatt, the rector of Kelvinside Academy in Glasgow, described the level of restrictions in schools as “farcical”.
“Nightclubs are open and 50,000 people can go to watch sport, yet restrictions on pupils remain – the impact on pupils’ development and mental health could be catastrophic,” he said after the First Minister’s statement.
“The level of restrictions we face in school is farcical when compared to the easing of restrictions in other areas of society and we need urgent changes to Scottish school guidance.
“Many pupils will spend half of their secondary school careers in masks. While teachers have adapted extremely well, to truly understand how to interact, they really need to see their pupils’ faces.”