Face masks will no longer have to be worn in classrooms in post-primary schools from Monday, March 21.
Education Minister Michelle McIlveen has made a written ministerial statement to the Northern Ireland Assembly on the use of face coverings by post-primary pupils in classrooms.
She confirmed they “will no longer be required” to be worn from that date.
A guidance note has also been issued to all schools
Minister McIlveen told the Assembly: “Case numbers among pupils have been particularly high during January and much of February. However, the pupil case numbers reported by the PHA in its weekly Epidemiology School Bulletin have showed a sustained decline since their peak in the seven days to 30 January and are now less than 30% of the case numbers at the peak.
“This is also supported by pupil absences due to COVID-19 having now reduced to levels not seen since before Christmas.
“I have now carried out a review of the guidance that recommends that post-primary pupils should wear a face covering in classrooms. I have taken into account the views of the Department of Health, trade unions, school staff, the parents who have either spoken or written to me and the young people who I have met in schools and through other avenues. I have also taken into account a range of studies from across the UK on this issue.
“I have been conscious of the need to balance the impact that the wearing of face coverings in classrooms has had on virus transmission with the challenges that wearing a face covering for long periods has brought to our young people and the disruption it has caused to their education.
“As a result of my review of this guidance, from 21 March, the recommendation that face coverings are worn by post-primary pupils in classrooms will be removed from my Department’s guidance.
“Their use at this stage will still be recommended in corridors, communal areas and on public and school transport, but they will no longer be recommended in classrooms.
“I have sought to give our young people, parents and schools sufficient notice of this in order to allow any preparations to be made.
“This change in guidance aligns closely with each of the other jurisdictions in these islands where post-primary pupils are not recommended to wear a face covering in classrooms. I have been conscious of the differences in the case numbers across the other jurisdictions and have therefore been cautious in allowing more time for case numbers in schools here to fall further.
“While I believe that we are at the point where the balance of relative risks is now in favour of removing this recommendation from guidance, COVID continues to circulate in our communities and in our schools and we should continue to reduce the risks of COVID in our schools through the range of other mitigating measures that remain in place to protect all pupils and staff.
“It is for this reason that if any individual wishes to continue to use a face covering in class, I would encourage them to do so.”