Victorian parents confused as Department for Education urges masks in schools as Andrews Government rules out mandate
Parents have been left confused and bewildered after Victoria’s education department called for masks to be worn in schools – despite the state government ruling out a mask mandate.
The Victoria Department of Education, Independent Schools of Victoria and the Catholic Education Commission of Victoria have collectively called for all pupils over the age of eight to wear masks in schools until the end of the winter, in a letter sent to schools on Monday evening.
“Students will not be required or expected to wear masks when outdoors, and this expectation will not preclude student participation in the full range of school activities,” the letter states.
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“We are asking for your support in explaining to your child or children the importance of this simple step that will help keep our schools as safe as possible.
“This action will help ensure that as many students and staff as possible are protected from COVID and other winter illnesses.”
It comes after Victoria’s Minister of Health said last week that masks would not be compulsory despite advice from the Chief Health Officer that they should be in certain settings.
As it stands, masks are not compulsory in any other state in Australia, with the exception of high-risk settings such as aged care facilities and hospitals.
However, authorities across the country have urged children and teachers to wear masks in schools to curb the growing spread of the virus.
NSW Education Minister Sarah Mitchell has strongly encouraged masks in schools, particularly during the first four weeks of term three as part of the mask-wearing ‘blitz’ of the State.
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk and South Australia’s Health Minister Chris Picton have also both publicly encouraged the use of masks in schools without reporting a mandate.
“The national cabinet agreed that we strongly encourage people, a big burden on personal responsibility,” Palaszczuk said Monday.
“What we need to do is slow this spread because our hospitals are under incredible pressure.”
Many parents expressed their confusion on social media on Tuesday morning after the letter.
“Wait, is that a warrant or not?” one Twitter user asked.
“Victoria ‘highly recommends’ masks in schools – WTF does that mean? Should masks be worn?” asked another.
Other social media users have accused Prime Minister Daniel Andrews of using the Education Department to do his “dirty job” after a mask mandate was ruled out.
Opposition Leader Matthew Guy called the move a “kids stealth mandate”.
“I think we’re all sick of this government smoke and mirror game,” he said.
“The government’s total approach to COVID is just confusion, total confusion.
“One minute they’re saying there’s no warrant and the next minute they’re advising kids to wear masks.”
But there is also strong support for the decision from education bodies, with the #WearAMask hashtag now trending on Twitter in Australia.
“I’m so proud of my daughter…she has never stopped wearing a mask and her school will be providing masks for kids as well,” one Twitter user said.
“Children will lead the way.”
Another person tweeted: “As a teacher who works in a high risk environment where it is difficult to minimize risk and where we are understaffed due to illness, it is nice to see a recommendation for masks in learning space.”
Parents Victoria chief executive Gail McHardy said the organization “fully supports” the mask recommendation, but admits many parents will have “tough decisions to make”.
“We think the bottom line is that families and schools work together to deal with the challenges that the pandemic brings,” she told 7NEWS.com.au.
“Victoria’s parents understand that the state government also has difficult decisions to make – balancing the desire to use the strongest possible measures to protect the vulnerable, with concerns about practicality and safety. public acceptance of measures such as mandatory masks.
“The situation is changing rapidly, governments have been forced to make major policy pivots in weeks or even days lately, and it could happen again.”
Victoria recorded 12,201 new cases of COVID on Tuesday, bringing the state’s total number of active cases to 65,416.
Nearly 900 people remain hospitalized with the virus.