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Pupil loses court battle regarding School policy “requiring or encouraging” face masks

A 12-year-old girl who claimed that wearing a face mask in school could cause long-term physical and mental health problems has lost her high court battle.

The pupil, known as AB, had made a request for an interim judgment to be made against Tapton Academy School Trust to stop them “requiring or encouraging” pupils to wear a face mask to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

The girl herself was exempt from wearing a mask but claimed that the Trust’s policy could result in health problems for others.

The Trust stated that their policy was in line with government guidance from the DfE and was to “encourage, not to enforce” the wearing of masks to protect their pupils, staff and visitors. More than 10% of the Trust’s staff had contracted Covid-19 since the end of August 2020.

The judgment dismissed the pupil’s claim and was handed down yesterday (5th May 2021). Despite the pupil’s lawyer presenting reports from a health and safety practitioner about the issues children may encounter as a result of wearing face masks, Judge Roger ter Haar QC said that he made “no conclusions whatsoever as to the safety or otherwise of requiring children to wear face masks in school” and that the claim was “not justified by medical or epidemiological evidence”.  He also said that as the pupil was not required to wear a face mask the injunction was not required to protect her health and safety.

Whilst it was accepted that the view held by the pupil was held by many other people, the Judge said that view does not “represent universal scientific and medical views as to the scientific and medical merits, disadvantages and dangers of the wearing of masks in schools”.

The judgment comes after the announcement from schools minister Nick Gibb last week where he said he hoped pupils would no longer have to wear face masks in class in secondary schools and colleges from mid-May. This announcement initiated a response from  five unions, representing teachers and support staff, who sent a joint letter to the Education Secretary Gavin Williamson, on Tuesday 4 May 2021 claiming that face coverings are essential in terms of the controlling the virus in schools and should continue to be required until at least 21 June 2021.

It is clear that the topic of face masks in schools is still being met with mixed views and it is yet to be seen whether the Government will proceed with the easing of this requirement as planned on 17 May.

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Please note that this briefing is designed to be informative, not advisory and represents our understanding of English law and practice as at the date indicated. We would always recommend that you should seek specific guidance on any particular legal issue.

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