Mandatory Masking

Tory MPs Back Legal Challenge to Schools Mask Mandate

More than a dozen Tory MPs and peers have backed a court challenge against the imposition of face masks in school classrooms, saying there is “insufficient evidence” to support the policy and it must be withdrawn with “immediate effect”. The Telegraph has the story.

The Government was sent a Letter before Action by lawyers acting for the parent campaign group UsForThem which claims the current guidance is disproportionate, irrational and discriminatory.

The legal challenge is supported by several Tory politicians, including Sir Graham Brady, chair of the powerful 1922 committee of backbenchers, Robert Halfon, Chair of the Education Select Committee, and Marcus Fysh, Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Education.

It is exceptionally rare for MPs to back a legal challenge against their own Government, and the move will ramp up pressure on ministers to axe the policy.

On January 1st, just two days before millions of pupils were due to return to the classroom following the Christmas break, the Government announced that all secondary school pupils would be asked to wear masks during lessons.

The move came just after teacher union bosses issued ministers with a series of demands which included asking why face masks were not required in classrooms in England while they were in Wales and Scotland.

Ministers said at the time that the decision to reimpose masks in classrooms for the first time since May last year would be reviewed on January 26th.

The Letter before Action, sent from JMW Solicitors on Saturday and addressed to the Education Secretary, says the policy must be “immediately revoked”.

It points out that the pandemic has had a “profound impact” on children and says it is “imperative” that steps are taken to aid their mental and physical recovery.

The guidance on face masks in the classroom is “plainly discriminatory”, the letter says, since it puts children with special education needs at a “significant” disadvantage.

The Education Secretary has failed to consider the impact on children’s wellbeing of “largely continuous” mask wearing for up to ten hours per day, it adds.

“To make this decision at this stage is to make a decision that no reasonable public body would make in all the circumstances,” the letter says.

“There is no rational basis to introduce this precaution at this stage. There is apparently no credible scientific evidence to support it and at the same time a large – and growing – volume of evidence which shows its harmful impact.”

JMW Solicitors has given the DfE until January 26th to respond and say that if changes are not made to the guidance, they will launch a judicial review.

Other Tory MPs backing the letter include Steve Baker, Deputy Chair of the Covid Recovery Group, Chris Green, the MP for Bolton West, and David Warburton, MP for Somerset and Frome.

Dame Helena Morrissey and Baroness Foster are among the Conseravtive peers who have lent their support to the legal challenge. And several academics also endorse the legal letter, including Professor Carl Heneghan, Director of Oxford University’s Centre for Evidence Based Medicine, and Professor Sunetra Gupta, an epidemiologist and infectious diseases expert at Oxford University.

Worth reading in full.

Forcing Children to Wear Masks is Dystopian, Says Gruffalo Author Julia Donaldson

Forcing pupils to wear facemasks in the classroom is dystopian and critics should not be smeared as Covid-deniers, children’s author Julia Donaldson has said. The Times has the story.

The creator of The Gruffalo said that she feared the use of face coverings in schools was becoming normalised and that children’s education should not be “sacrificed” to protect the NHS.

Donaldson, 73, has written around 200 books, many of which have been adapted for television and stage. The Gruffalo has sold more than 13 million copies and been translated into more than 100 languages.

The former secondary school English teacher and former children’s laureate said: “Even if the current proposals are only for three weeks, this could be repeated and become something considered normal whenever there is infection, whereas in fact it should not be considered normal, it is alien – even dystopian.

“Children are children for such a short time, I don’t think they should be sacrificed like this.”

“They’re seen as a gesture that isn’t costing the government any money and as something that is not doing any harm. Because of the climate of fear, people have readily accepted something I regard as unacceptable, and that I fear may now be seen as a normal part of life.”

She told the Times that it was vital for teachers to be able to read pupils’ facial expressions during lessons and that many people were too scared to speak out against face masks in case of a social media backlash.

“There is too much polarity. It’s unfortunate that the start of Covid coincided with the US election,” she said. “People were equating any arguments against lockdown or masks with being a Republican or Trumpian.”

Donaldson, who has been left with a long-term Covid symptom called parosmia, which makes smells seem overpowering and food taste disgusting, said: “I’m very pro-vaccination. I’ve been triple-jabbed. I’ve had Covid. I’m not a denier.

“You don’t have to be right-wing [to oppose masks in schools]. I know a lot of people who are passionately anti-lockdown because they’re very sympathetic to the plight of lonely and vulnerable people or those with mental illness.”

The article notes that “a study used to justify the introduction of masks in English schools implied they had at best a marginal effect” and quotes the pro-lockdown scientist Dr Simon Clarke saying: “As the report points out, face coverings can become contaminated quickly, so repeated putting them on and taking them off, and touching them, could present an opportunity for viral transmission. Expecting children to wear them properly all day and to keep them clean is somewhat optimistic. An unwashed face covering worn daily will quickly become akin to wearing a dirty handkerchief across your face.”

When even the Times and lockdown fanatics are speaking out against an intervention, you know there’s something in the air.

Worth reading in full.

Wearing Face Masks in School Classrooms is Not a Requirement, Government Guidance Shows

Despite widespread reports that masks are to be required in classrooms as pupils return to schools across the country today, the updated Government guidance shows that this is only a recommendation, not a requirement. Here is the relevant section (emphasis mine).

Where pupils in Year 7 (which would be children who were aged 11 on August 31st 2021) and above are educated, we recommend that face coverings should be worn by pupils, staff and adult visitors when moving around the premises, outside of classrooms, such as in corridors and communal areas. This is a temporary measure.

From January 4th, we also recommend that in those schools where pupils in Year 7 and above are educated, face coverings should be worn in classrooms. This does not apply in situations where wearing a face covering would impact on the ability to take part in exercise or strenuous activity, for example in PE lessons. This will also be a temporary measure. …

We would not ordinarily expect teachers to wear a face covering in the classroom if they are at the front of the class, to support education delivery, although settings should be sensitive to the needs of individual teachers. …

Face coverings do not need to be worn when outdoors.

Schools, as employers, have a duty to comply with the Equality Act 2010 which includes making reasonable adjustments for disabled staff. They also have a duty to make reasonable adjustments for disabled pupils, to support them to access education successfully. No pupil should be denied education on the grounds that they are not wearing a face covering.

It should be noted that this is guidance for schools rather than pupils, so a school might decide to follow the Government recommendation by requiring its pupils to wear face masks. However, they should still not deny education to pupils if they do not wear one. The usual exemptions also apply, including where wearing a mask causes “severe distress” and “to avoid the risk of harm or injury to yourself or others” (and let’s face it, how can covering your mouth and nose for most of the day with an item that obstructs breathing, gathers germs, contains harmful levels of toxic substances, and prevents normal human interaction not put you at risk of harm?).

Government coronavirus guidance can be found here.

If readers have any stories of pupils being penalised for not wearing a mask you can email us here.

Sadiq Khan Calls for Mandatory Face Masks on Public Transport

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has called on the Government to re-impose mandatory face masks on public transport and has recommended that members of the public wear them voluntarily in the meantime. Khan has also called on Londoners to protect the NHS this winter by receiving a Covid booster vaccine when it becomes available, as well as to book a place for the annual flu jab. The MailOnline has the story.

The Government has been resistant to bringing in ‘Plan B’ measures, which would see the reintroduction of mandatory facemasks indoors and guidance to work from home and the use of Covid passports.

Mr Khan called for Londoners to get vaccinated against Covid and the flu to protect the NHS this winter.

It comes as official data shows more and more adults in their 30s and 40s are choosing to wear face masks on buses and trains amid spiralling Covid cases.

An Office for National Statistics poll found 33% of middle-aged adults wore coverings while on public transport at the start of September.

But just a month later this had ticked upwards to almost 40%, despite no change in official guidance.

The London Mayor said in a statement that the “deadly virus has not gone away and this winter we’re facing both flu and Covid”.

He added: “The worst thing we can do is to lower our guard, be complacent and underestimate the risk these viruses pose to all of us.

“The situation with Covid in London is so finely balanced that it needs all of us to act together to protect ourselves, our loved ones, the things we enjoy and our NHS this winter.

“That’s why I’m urging all eligible Londoners to have the booster vaccine and flu jab as soon as you are offered it, continue to wear a mask where you can and I’m calling on the Government to put simple and effective steps, such as mandatory face coverings on public transport, in place to halt the spread of the virus now.”

The Mayor’s comments came after a leading scientist suggested measures in ‘Plan B’ may not be needed if data continues to show a decline in cases.

Worth reading in full.

The Staggering Hypocrisy of the University and College Union

There follows a guest post by a senior academic at a large city-centre based university. He noticed that at a recent fringe at the Labour Party Conference addressed by Jo Grady, General Secretary of the University and College Union, almost no one in the audience was social distancing or wearing a mask. Yet the UCU has been absolutely insistent that it’s not ‘safe’ for its members to return to face-to-face teaching unless mandatory masking and social distancing mandates are in place across university campuses.

The University and College Union (UCU) has earned a reputation for being one of the most active unions in the U.K. It has also been one of the most vociferous pro-lockdown voices in the country. In October last year it threatened to take the Government to court in order, essentially to prevent students being permitted to return to campus in January. This year its aim is to ensure that universities mandate mask wearing, install expensive new ventilation systems, and maintain social distancing on site. Speaking from personal experience as a member of staff at a large city-centre based university, I can also confirm that local branches are equally strident, and that most staff meetings (still being held online, of course) tend to devolve into bouts of hand-wringing about how “unsafe” UCU members feel about having to teach students face-to-face.

So it was with interest that I studied this photograph, taken at the UCU fringe event held at the Labour Party conference on Sunday when the General Secretary, Jo Grady, was speaking. Note the distinct lack of mask-wearing or social-distancing.

Shared initially on twitter, this photo was quickly deleted (I happened to snap it on my phone, suspecting it would not be online for very long), and replaced with this pathetic apology/explanation. Jo Grady is apparently more interested in avoiding giving offence to the immunocompromised than she is in defending herself from the absolute hypocrisy that she has displayed. Her broader position seems to be that it’s okay for her to take a sensible approach to risk-taking, but not university students, academic staff or university administrators – presumably because they are too stupid or lacking in virtue.

What is behind the UCU’s stand on masks and social distancing? It can’t really be about stopping the spread of Covid – judging by this photo at least, the UCU movers and shakers certainly don’t feel such safety measures to be necessary. I don’t doubt that some members do still feel “unsafe” (I do know of a few). But it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that this has now for the most part simply become a glorified tantrum on the part of academics about having to pull their fingers out and do some work.

University lecturers have, by and large, had a good pandemic. Teaching online is a breeze: many lecturers have just been uploading old recordings of lectures and putting in a desultory performance at Zoom or Teams tutorials for the past 18 months. This has allowed them to focus on doing what they really care about: writing boring and unreadable papers about obscure topics interesting only to themselves, and tweeting. Those with young families have no doubt struggled, as in any other sector. But those who haven’t have found much to like about the Covid restrictions.

They are now being forced to return to normal – facing students in the classroom and actually having to therefore put some effort into teaching them. A significant minority don’t like this prospect, and are being dragged kicking and screaming back to campus. Making a big fuss about “safety” is the focal point for their rage: as any good psychologist will tell you, when somebody can’t openly express what they are really angry about (for example, having to actually do something in return for receiving a big fat salary), they find something else to make a fuss over (students not wearing masks). This, I think, explains an awful lot of the motivations of many UCU members.

I would like to close this piece by reminding readers that not all academic staff are UCU members, and in my experience a decent majority of lecturers are enjoying the return to proper teaching. Sadly, as so often in life, it is a relatively small but very loud-mouthed minority who are making things difficult for the rest of us.