A number of Dutch schools have made face masks compulsory in the absence of a clear guideline from health institute RIVM, the Outbreak Management Team and the cabinet, broadcaster NOS reports.
Two schools, one in Assen and another in Hilversum, were the first to announce the measure, followed on Wednesday by schools in Amsterdam, Amstelveen, Haarlem and another school in Hilversum.
The official Dutch line is that masks offer only limited protection from infection with coronavirus. However, face masks have been made compulsory in public transport where keeping 1.5 metres distance is not feasible and in busy city locations in Amsterdam and Rotterdam.
Not all schools have imposed the same rules. Some schools only require pupils and staff to wear the masks in the corridors while others have made face masks compulsory for year 4 pupils and up, including in the classroom.
Schools are also worried that poor ventilation may promote the spread of the virus in winter when windows and doors can’t be opened.
OMT member Karóly Illy, who was accused of speaking out of turn when he proposed a 1 metre distance for secondary school pupils on Wednesday, told NOS he is not in favour of face masks during lessons and has no clear opinion about their efficacy in corridors or canteens.
Secondary school council VO-Raad has said it wants a ‘specific recommendation’ from the RIVM on the use of face masks in schools and reassurance that the current recommendations – no social distancing between pupils and exclusion of pupils with symptoms or infected family members – are sufficient.
VO-Raad chairman Paul Rosenmöller also pointed out that the number of school opting for face masks is limited: ‘Every example of a school that deviates from the norm is highlighted in the media. There are 1,450 secondary schools in this country. There certainly is an increasing number which are making face masks compulsory and that is their right. But what we want is uniformity and to avoid questions like ‘why are they having them and why aren’t we?’, Rosenmöller said.
Rosenmöller said he understood the difficult position school leaders could find themselves in in case of an outbreak but called on prime minister Mark Rutte to confirm that the measure is allowed, but not necessary, and that the present recommendations are sufficient.
Schools in the north, which includes Drenthe, Groningen, Friesland, Noord-Holland, Overijssel and parts of Utrecht, Flevoland and Gelderland, went back last Monday. The southern school region goes back next week, with the central region, including The Hague and Rotterdam, a week later.