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Education secretary defends school face masks U-turn after Tory backlash



a little boy looking at the camera: Photograph: Owen Humphreys/PA


© Provided by The Guardian
Photograph: Owen Humphreys/PA

The UK education secretary, Gavin Williamson, has defended the government’s U-turn on pupils in England wearing face masks in schools after coming under fire from Conservative MPs over the move.

Just hours after the cabinet minister Alok Sharma said on Tuesday morning there were no plans to review the policy amid pressure from headteachers, the government performed an about-turn and said pupils would no longer be advised against using face masks in secondary schools.

Related: From face masks to Covid testing: 11 times the UK government has U-turned

Instead, in places with high levels of Covid-19, such as lockdown areas including Greater Manchester, children in year 7 and above are now being advised to wear face coverings in school corridors where social distancing is more difficult.

The move – which came after Scotland confirmed secondary pupils must wear masks in communal areas,

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Former education secretary discusses safely returning to school

Former Education Secretary John King has some recommendations on how schools can reopen safely in the coming weeks, amid the coronavirus pandemic.  

He says that effective contact tracing and national, large-scale testing access are only the first steps that need to be taken to return kids to school. For King, who served in the Obama administration as both education secretary and deputy secretary, redesigning schools to enforce social distancing recommendations is a far more complex issue.

“The best advice we have is that students need to be physically distant, which means we need to bring class size down so that students are at least six feet apart,” King told CBS News’ chief Washington correspondent Major Garrett on this week’s episode of “The Takeout” podcast. “We’ve got to make sure that students are wearing masks, [and] that teachers are wearing masks,” he added, declaring that installing plexiglass barriers around desks is

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‘Science should not stand in the way’ of schools reopening, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany says

WASHINGTON – White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany on Thursday emphasized that schools reopening this fall shouldn’t be contingent on science surrounding coronavirus, but then claimed the “science is on our side here” as the pandemic continues unabated.

In response to a question about what President Donald Trump would say to parents who have kids in school districts that may be online-only, McEnany said: “The president has said unmistakably that he wants schools to open. And when he says open, he means open in full, kids been able to attend each and every day at their school.

“The science should not stand in the way of this,” she added, saying it is “perfectly safe” to fully reopen all classrooms. 

A parent’s guide to online school: 9 questions to ask to vet your back-to-school choices

McEnany claimed “science is on our side,” citing one study that said the risk of critical

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Former education secretary on “balancing act” of school reopening

The CDC is expected to release “additional reference documents” about reopening schools safely after President Trump criticized the original guidance as “tough” and “expensive.” Despite the ongoing controversy, former Education Secretary Margaret Spellings said it will be the states and local communities making the ultimate decision. 

“They’re the people who are paying the bills,” Spellings said on “CBS This Morning” Thursday. “I think parents are looking to their local officials to understand the needs of that community and that balancing act, and be a party to those decisions.” 

Meanwhile, Mr. Trump has been pressuring state and local officials to open schools in the fall despite surging coronavirus cases, including threats to withhold funding from school systems that are not fully reopened. 

Spellings, who is also CEO of nonprofit Texas 2036, said there was “no way” for the president to withhold funding that Congress had already appropriated for schools,

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