Students can wear masks in school if they want, given the haze situation, MOE assures parents

A student from Nanhua Primary School wearing a mask while walking to school on Sept 16, 2019. ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

SINGAPORE - Students are allowed to wear masks in school if they want to, given the haze situation, the Ministry of Education (MOE) assured parents on Tuesday (Sept 17), even as many debated whether there was a need to.

Even so, wearing an N95 mask is not necessary with the measures that will be in place in schools if the haze situation worsens, MOE said.

This comes after a parent posted on Facebook that her daughter's primary school allegedly did not allow her child to wear an N95 mask in school. The school has since clarified that teachers have not told pupils this.

Replying to queries from The Straits Times, an MOE spokesman said that all classrooms of primary and secondary schools, MOE kindergartens, and special education schools are equipped with air purifiers to ensure students' well-being when the haze worsens in Singapore.

When the air quality hits the very unhealthy range, or when required, schools will close the doors and windows of classrooms and turn on the air purifiers, said the spokesman.

"Therefore, masks are not necessary, even for examinations which are all conducted in enclosed indoor spaces with air purifiers," she added.

"Nonetheless, if parents and their children feel more comfortable, our students are welcome to use masks in school."

Noting that there was currently no international certification standards for the use of masks on children, MOE said that N95 masks would not be required for short-term exposure, like commuting from home to school, or when students are in an indoor environment, such as classrooms.

"The key precaution for children to take during haze is to minimise prolonged or strenuous outdoor physical exertion when the forecast air quality is in the unhealthy range, and to avoid outdoor activity when the forecast air quality is in the very unhealthy range," said the spokesman.

A 24-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) reading of 101 to 200 is in the unhealthy range, while a reading of 201 to 300 is in the very unhealthy band.

On Monday, a parent said her daughter and other pupils at a local primary school were told that they were not allowed to wear face masks at school.

In an updated post later that day, the parent said the school assured her that pupils were allowed to wear masks and the school was investigating why multiple pupils were told they could not.

The school's principal told ST that the school has always allowed face masks when there is haze or when pupils feel unwell.

The principal clarified that at no point did any of the teachers inform pupils that they were not allowed to wear face masks in schools.

"We will also share this information with all our (pupils') parents to reassure them," he said.

Parents had differing views about their children wearing masks in school.

On the post by the parent who highlighted the mask issue, Facebook user Cherie Tan asked if parents are being overprotective of their children and pointed out that PSI levels were not in the very unhealthy range.

Ms Tan said that students who wore masks and took part in outdoor activities in the hot weather could develop rashes and skin conditions.

She said that her daughter wore a mask if it was necessary outside school hours.

Ms Vinitha Thiro Selvan, 34, said that she rushed to buy a purifier for her one-year-old baby when haze conditions worsened.

While she is concerned about the impact of the haze on her child, she does not think masks are necessary for children in school for now. But if the masks are comfortable for them to wear, there was no harm in doing so, she said.

As for parents like senior network engineer Ajith Raveendran, he would want his boy in pre-school to wear a mask in class but would not take more drastic steps for now.

The 35-year-old father of two boys, aged five and one, said that his sons were sensitive to airborne allergens, adding: "We worry because the haze can trigger cough and health issues, but instead of taking any drastic measures, we choose to follow the guidelines set by the authorities."

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