23 June 2021

Dear Parents & Carers,

 

I wrote to you on Friday 28th May with the following update regarding face coverings:

 

As of Monday 7th June 2021, we are removing our recommendation that students wear face coverings/masks in the classroom. This is in line with guidance from the Department for Education issued on 17th May 2021. We are aware that there are a variety of views about face coverings and we respect the diverse opinions that students, parents and carers may hold. We are also aware that a significant level of evidence is available regarding face coverings. However, we are not public health experts or specialists in that area of research and would advise parents and carers to engage with local politicians and the relevant public health leads at the Local Authority if they have particular views or questions. Like all schools, we lack the expert knowledge of public health officials and rely upon their guidance for decision making. Similarly, if we were ever to recommend the reintroduction of face coverings in classrooms on a future date, it would be based upon explicit guidance after consultation with public health officials.  

 

Our role is to support all families so that they can make choices that are appropriate for their circumstances. Therefore, we support those students who would like to continue wearing face coverings as a personal choice and, equally, all those who choose not to do so. The school recommendation is now removed, but we will support the personal choices that families and students make. We will continue to reiterate that no member of our school community has the right to question the personal decision made by another student on this subject. Students have referenced peer pressure with regard to face coverings, so please make clear at home too that we are no longer recommending that face coverings are worn in the classroom, but that it is absolutely fine to continue doing so if that is their personal choice. Some teachers may well make that personal choice too. We will, however, fully retain our recommendation that face coverings should be worn in corridors, communal areas and when queuing for lunch or break time food, as social distancing cannot be guaranteed at those times. 

 

You will be aware that case numbers have risen considerably in Durham City and in both primary and secondary schools in the wider Durham area. Nationally, very large numbers of students are currently self-isolating as a consequence of increased transmission and close contact. This has had a significant impact in local schools too, with two local secondary schools having to move to remote learning for the remainder of this week and other secondary schools being instructed by the local Public Health team for face coverings to be worn in the classroom from Monday 21st June onwards. We have now been given that same direction by public health officials as part of their contingency powers. Regarding the use of face coverings education settings they have noted that:

 

In line with the Covid-19 Contingency Framework for education and childcare, the Director of Public Health and PHE Health Protection Teams (HPTs) can recommend measures as part of their outbreak management responsibilities:

  • to help manage a COVID-19 outbreak within a setting.
  • if there is high prevalence of COVID-19 in the community.
  • as part of a package of measures responding to a Variant of Concern (VoC).

 

Therefore, in line with public health guidance, we are recommending that face coverings are worn in both the classroom and communal areas from Thursday 24th June. We shared this information with all students at 2.30 p.m. this afternoon.

 

We will review this decision with public health officials again next week. At present we have had one positive case linked to the school since half-term, but the Local Authority are aware that there has been a significant increase in school transmission of the Delta variant in the past two weeks and that, locally, there has been a significant increase in positive cases amongst those aged between 11 and 24.

 

I explained on 28th May that this if this decision were necessary, it would be a recommendation only. That still applies. It is important that I reiterate that we will support those students and families who act upon this recommendation as a personal choice and, equally, all those who choose not to do so. We will support the personal choices that families and students make. We will continue to reiterate that no member of our school community has the right to question the personal decision made by another student on this subject. However, I should also note that public health officials believe this action to be appropriate. 

 

It is genuinely disappointing that local schools have had to revert to this position. However, it is important that we act upon the advice offered by public health officials and we will update all members of our school community immediately if there is any change in this position. I am sincerely hopeful that this will be a short term measure that helps us to maintain a full school service for families for the final three weeks of term. Anything that helps the school to stay open is welcomed and we will hopefully be in a much more normal position as of September 2021.

 

Thank you for your continued support.

 

Mr O’Sullivan