A national charity is concerned that deaf children across Dundee are being negatively affected by the use of face masks in classrooms.
The National Deaf Children’s Society claims that up to 50 children across the city are struggling to understand teachers and classmates because of “knee-jerk, blanket policy decisions”.
This is despite Scottish Government guidance requiring only S4 to S6 pupils in places with level three and four restrictions to wear face masks during lessons.
There are 95 deaf children in Dundee, around half of them secondary school age.
The move has been criticised by Alasdair O’Hara, head of policy for Scotland at the National Deaf Children’s Society, who claims it ignores the needs of deaf children.
He said: “Nothing is more important than the safety of pupils and staff, but government advice clearly says face masks are not needed in every classroom.
“Despite this, schools are pressing ahead with knee-jerk, blanket policy decisions that don’t consider deaf children’s needs.
“Deaf pupils already achieve less than hearing children and if schools are making huge decisions unilaterally, they must discuss them with specialist staff, parents and deaf pupils every step of the way.”
These are challenging times, but every child has the right to an education. Deaf children are no exception.”
Alasdair O’Hara, head of policy for Scotland at the National Deaf Children’s Society
Statistics show that deaf children are five times more likely to leave school without any qualifications and just 44% achieve Highers or Advanced Highers.
This is compared to 60% of hearing pupils.
Mr O’Hara has called for more to be done to help those pupils living with hearing loss.
He added: “Schools also need to make every reasonable adjustment a deaf pupil needs to access their education, such as funding extra communication support, providing transformational technology like radio aids or increasing deaf awareness.
“These are challenging times, but every child has the right to an education. Deaf children are no exception.”
“It’s a catch-22 situation”
Speaking earlier this year, Alana Harper – CEO of Dundee-based Deaf Links – said: “It’s a catch-22 situation. We know the virus is spreading amongst young people and obviously there are large groups of them in schools.
“But how do you mitigate the communication barrier experienced by those with a hearing loss? They are often isolated from their peer group anyway because it’s very rare for young people to have a knowledge of sign language so they can’t communicate with them.”
A spokesman for Dundee City Council said: “We’re trialling face coverings with clear panels for deaf pupils as well as those who have other communication needs.
“We’re testing out ones which pupils respond to best and which staff can wear comfortably.”