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Face masks and coverings have become a ubiquitous part of life in the wake of the pandemic, but there’s one surprising place they’re rarely seen – at the school gate.
That’s despite the fact that if my experience is anything to go by, shepherding two primary-school aged children to our school in east London and back is by far the busiest and most interactive part of my day.
Hordes of parents line the streets, chat in the queue and sit at opposite ends of the benches in the playground while waiting for kids to exit the classrooms.
When it’s raining, we huddle beneath the shelter of the ‘outdoor science classroom’ and congregate in the shed to help our kids collect their bikes and scooters. We pass each other on the narrow pavements, sometimes stepping off them for safety; but when it comes to social distancing, it’s virtually impossible – not least because the roads are packed with cars.
We do have staggered entry and exit times, and different gates according to school year groups, but we have to pick our kids up on time and leave immediately, which means there is a lot of passing (people) traffic.
So, when we’re all so aware of the risks, why aren’t more parents wearing masks? Should we be? And whose responsibility is it to mandate we do so?
That was the question (gently) raised by a new parent in our Reception group WhatsApp on the first day of the second lockdown.
The dad wrote that following news of a confirmed case of Covid-19 at our school – an entire class of kids is now in isolation, along with their teacher – he was thinking of wearing a mask for the school run.
He admitted he’d felt “self-conscious” wearing it up until now, but said he felt it was for the best – and other parents agreed.
One mum said she was happy to wear a mask if it helped the school stay safe, open and running smoothly, and another admitted that even with markings on the floor to show parents where and where not to stand, she felt “uncomfortable” because of the proximity of other parents.
But there was substantial confusion as to whether parenting wearing masks outside at school drop-off and pick-up times was a matter for the school or PTA to issue guidance on – or up to individual choice.
HuffPost UK spoke to the Department of Education to find out more about the latest guidelines.
A DoE spokeswoman pointed out the relevant section on face coverings, which states: “In early years settings, there is no change to the existing position. It is not mandatory for staff and visitors to wear face coverings.
“In situations where social distancing between adults in settings is not possible (for example when moving around in corridors and communal areas), settings have the discretion to recommend the use of face coverings for adults on site, for both staff and visitors.”
In our parents’ WhatsApp group, most people have decided that due to the combined effects of lockdown – plus our first confirmed case of the virus within the school – they’ll be wearing masks from now on.
“Cover them in kisses and then keep them safe,” one mum wrote, in summary.
Amen to that.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.