About a fifth of high schools advise pupils to wear face masks
About 20 percent of secondary schools in the Netherlands require or advise pupils to wear face masks at school, NOS reports after speaking to about 100 secondary school communities. A number of schools are considering implementing this measure, despite health institute RIVM's current advice that a mask is not necessary.
Schools are reopening after the summer holidays. The first schools reopened in the Noord region last week. This week the southern provinces followed, and schools in the central region will start next week. Unlike before the summer, pupils in secondary schools no longer have to maintain social distancing from each other, only from teachers and other adults.
The vast majority of schools are going ahead without masks for the time being. Schools that do advise wearing masks do so mainly when it is difficult to stay 1.5 meters away from the teacher. This is often the case for practical lessons. "In Technology, the teacher has to explain about machines. The teacher and pupil must then wear masks," a VMBO school said to NOS. Another school mentioned catering classes, "where food is prepared for others." Some schools are prescribing masks in corridors when changing lessons. Others made masks voluntary. "If employees or students feel safer this way, they are free to use it."
In the weeks before reopening, there were many concerns among schools about the role of proper ventilation in the spread of the coronavirus. Minister Arie Slob for Primary and Secondary Education advised schools to check whether their ventilation systems comply to the building code. Almost all schools told NOS that they've done so or will do so shortly. About half of the schools took extra measures to get ventilation in order. Many schools turned of the recirculation systems. Windows and doors are kept open en masse, and air quality is checked more often.
There were also concerns about social distancing among pupils. Pediatrician Karoly Illy, also a member of the government's Outbreak Management Team, said last week that high school pupils should really keep at least one meter apart from each other. A few schools are advising kids to keep apart. One practical school told NOS: "80 percent of the lessons are practical, so there is a lot of walking. The pupils must stay at arm's length from each other as much as possible, and keep a distance of 1.5 meters from the staff."
While most schools are satisfied with the current guidelines from the government, a few schools are critical of the lack of clarity. A rector from Groningen mentioned Illy's comments to the media, saying that the Outbreak Management Team is not speaking with one voice. "It would be nice if experts did not speak out of turn and realized the impact of their statements on the average teacher," a school director in Alkmaar added. Other schools think the government should have communicated earlier that it was safe to go back to school. "Waiting too long for information from the government allows for speculation and contrarian reports. Once that Pandora's box is open, there's no stopping it."