Policies of face-masks for school children

ASE made this Official Information request to Ministry of Education

The request was successful.

From: ASE

Attn Ministry of Education,

So far as it is practicable, and consistent with The Official Information Act, I would like to request that The Ministry of Education forward this request for information to any relevant department or interdepartmental venture or Minister of the Crown or organisation, or local authority, or any other party directly advising on these matters, and advise accordingly as per The Official Information Act. Notwithstanding such compliance with The Official Information Act, I do expect that The Ministry of Education can substantively address all of the matters raised herein.

I am seeking information relating to policies which require and/or encourage the use of face-masks in schools, ostensibly as a protection against COVID.

Does The Ministry of Education currently hold any official position relating to the use of face-masks in schools, ostensibly as a protection against COVID? If so, what is that position? How has that position changed over time? How have such changes been influenced by data and evidence? How have such changes been influenced by forces other than data and evidence, eg political and/or ideological influences, and/or a perceived need to "do something"?

If The Ministry of Education does not currently hold any official position requiring or encouraging, or allowing schools to require or encourage the use of face-masks in schools, then no further information is requested, and the following requests for information, below, may be ignored.

What is the reason(s) for implementing such policies that require or encourage the use of face-masks in schools? If such face-mask policies were implemented on the basis of evidence, what evidence supports such policies? If such policies are not supported by evidence, then what is the basis of such policies (eg political and/or ideological influences, a perceived need to "do something")?

What data and evidence does The Ministry of Education hold regarding currently circulating COVID variants and, in the absence of all mitigations, the risks they may pose to school-age children, and how are those risks quantified (eg, are school age children at a 50% chance of dying from COVID? Or a one-in-a-million chance of being hospitalised by COVID?)? Are those risks significantly different between younger school-age children and older school-age children? In other words, how is the risk of no intervention assessed and quantified, among school age children, in school environments? How do those risks differ, among school age children, from common respiratory diseases such as common colds, common flus, and respiratory syncytial virus?

Quantifiably, how are those risks mitigated by face-masks, in the settings where face-masks may be required or encouraged? Excluding hypothetical modelling, does The Ministry of Education hold any data and evidence to support the efficacy of such mitigation policies? If The Ministry of Education does not hold data and evidence supporting such mitigation policies, then what is the basis of such policies?

What due diligence has The Ministry of Education undertaken in assessing and understanding the risks (eg adversely affecting cognitive development, psychosocial development, speech pathologies, intelligence, anxiety, dermatological effects, dental and periodontal effects, inhalation of micro-plastics and nano-plastics, risks of bacterial and fungal respiratory disease, hypoxia) of requiring or encouraging face-masks in schools?

Considering the stated reason(s) for implementing such policies which may require or encourage face-masks in schools, what risk/benefit analysis does The Ministry of Education hold, demonstrating that the benefits of such policies outweigh the risks?

Considering the stated reason(s) for implementing such policies which may require or encourage face-masks in schools, what cost/benefit analysis does The Ministry of Education hold, demonstrating that the benefits of such policies outweigh the costs?

What policies are in place to support and make accommodations for children who are medically exempt from wearing face-masks? What policies are in place to provide support for children who may benefit from having a medical exemption recognised (eg anxiety related issues, including anxiety resulting from abuse at home, in which case parental support for a medical exemption may be lacking)? What policies are in place to support and make accommodations for children who can not afford the costs of face-masks (to the extent that such policies are evidence-based, NAG5(a) may be relevant here)? What policies are in place to ensure that children are not challenged, bullied, outcast, excluded, or otherwise targeted or disenfranchised for not wearing face-masks, or for deviating from the “normal” use of face-masks (eg children wearing the same mask all week, or children wearing masks that do not conform to prevailing aesthetic norms), (NAG5(a) is relevant here, regardless of whether or not such policies are evidence-based)?

Thank you,
ASE

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From: Enquiries National

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From: Enquiries National


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Kia ora ASE    

 

Thank you for your request for information below.  The Ministry will
consider and respond to your request in accordance with the Official
Information Act 1982 (the Act).

 

Under section 15(1) of the Act, we are required to make and inform you of
our decision on your request as soon as reasonably practicable and in any
case not later than 20 working days after the day on which your request is
received.  You can therefore expect to receive our decision on your
request on or before the 4 March 2022.  If more than 20 working days are
needed due to the potential workload and/or consultations involved in
answering your request, we will notify you accordingly.

 

The Ministry may publicly release on our website the response to your
request five days after you have received it. Any personal information
will be removed.

 

In the interim, if you have any questions about your request, please email
[1][email address].

 

Ngā mihi

 

Enquiries National Team | Ministry of Education - TW
[2]education.govt.nz  |  [3]Follow us on Twitter: @educationgovtnz

[4]Te TD huhu o te MD tauranga

 

 

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Tçnâ koe ASE

 

Thank you for your email of 3 February 2022 to the Ministry of Education
requesting information relating to the use of masks in schools. Your full
request has been provided as Annex One for your reference.  

 

Your request has been considered under the Official Information Act 1982
(the Act).

 

This is a challenging time for everyone in New Zealand as we continue to
respond to COVID-19. As you know, at the Red setting of the COVID-19
Protection Framework, it is mandatory for masks to be worn in a number of
places including on public transport, inside public venues and inside
retail businesses. Everyone is encouraged to wear a mask whenever they
leave the house.

 

Masks are a key health measure to protect ourselves and others from
COVID-19 and are an important layer of protection in schools. The rules
and guidance for schools and kura also focus on reducing the spread. We
know that the Omicron variant is more transmissible than previous
variants, so we do need to ensure that our young people are also
protected.

 

The Government decision regarding the wearing of masks for students Year 4
and above was made by Cabinet, informed by advice from the Ministry of
Health about the importance of mask wearing. We will continue to follow
the advice from the Ministry of Health regarding the need for masks to be
worn in schools. 

 

The requirements for face coverings in educational settings are set out in
COVID-19 Public Health Response (Protection Framework) Order 2021 (as at
23 January 2022) as a legal requirement. You can find the Health Order at
[1]COVID-19 Public Health Response (Protection Framework and Other
Matters) Amendment Order 2022 (SL 2022/6) – New Zealand Legislation.

 

As you may know, schools are self-governing through their Board. They are
ultimately responsible for ensuring that relevant legislation is
implemented in their school, including Orders issued under the COVID-19
Public Health Response Act 2020. The Ministry’s role is to support schools
and kura to implement those requirements. The Ministry’s main channel for
providing guidance to schools is via the Bulletin for School Leaders on
their website, which can be accessed at the following link:
[2]https://www.education.govt.nz/school/min....

 

While masks are a requirement, schools should not be restricting access to
education for those who are not able to wear a mask. It is not necessary
for students to have an official mask exemption card if they have a
disability or health condition that makes wearing a mask unsuitable, and
schools will know who has a genuine reason for this.

 

Further information about mask exemptions can be found on the Unite
Against COVID-19 website at the following link:
[3]https://covid19.govt.nz/prepare-and-stay....

 

We have advised schools that teachers and students should make appropriate
decisions about always keeping a mask on, including ensuring that teachers
and students can communicate effectively with each other. This is one of
the contributing factors as to why masks are not mandatory for staff and
children below year 4, or for children and teachers in early learning
settings.

 

The Ministry of Health provides clear advice about how to safely wear a
face mask and when this may not be appropriate, including that they should
not be worn by people that are not able to remove the mask themselves or
when they may have difficulty breathing. Advice relating to the safety and
impact of masks would have been produced by the Ministry of Health.

 

Health advice around the use of face masks can be found at the following
link:
[4]https://www.health.govt.nz/covid-19-nove....

 

The Ministry of Education is providing a one-off supply of masks to
schools and kura for learners in Years 4 and above. This one-off supply is
expected to be available in late February and allocated to every school
(excluding private schools) to use at their discretion, based on roll size
and decile. This supports schools to cover any additional needs they may
face (for example, where students cannot provide their own mask, or where
a student’s mask may get lost or damaged).

 

Your request

 

In response to the first part of your request, the Ministry of Health
provided advice to Cabinet to support their decision to mandate the use of
masks in schools. Schools are self-governing through their Board and are
responsible for implementing Health and Safety measures, including those
mandated by the COVID-19 Health Protection Orders.

 

Information relating to the effectiveness of masks in reducing spread is
available on the Ministry of Health website at the following link: 
[5]https://www.health.govt.nz/covid-19-nove...

 

Any assessment as to the efficacy of masks in slowing the spread of
COVID-19 would have been completed by the Ministry of Health, and we
recommend that you direct any questions about the public health advice
that contributed to Cabinet’s decision to mandate masks in schools, we
recommend you reach out to Health by emailing
[6][email address]

 

In relation to the second part of your request, the Ministry of Education
currently hold no official position requiring or encouraging, or allowing
schools to require or encourage the use of face-masks in schools. Our
role, as mentioned above, is to ensure the COVID-19 Health Protection
Order is implemented in schools alongside all other legislation related to
the education sector. Therefore, as per part three of your request in
Annex One, we will not be responding to your remaining requests for
information.

 

Please note, the Ministry now proactively publishes OIA responses on our
website. As such, we may publish this response on our website after five
working days. Your name and contact details will be removed.

 

Thank you again for your email. You have the right to ask an Ombudsman to
review this decision. You can do this by writing to
[7][email address] or Office of the Ombudsman, PO Box 10152,
Wellington 6143.

 

 

Nâku noa, nâ

Enquiries National Team | Ministry of Education - TW
[8]education.govt.nz  |  [9]Follow us on Twitter: @educationgovtnz

[10]Te TD huhu o te MD tauranga

 

 

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