Stockholm school sends pupil home for wearing face mask

Linus (right) and his mother Sarah Jefford outside BISS. Photo: Sarah Jefford
UPDATED: A mother has told The Local her 13-year-old son was banned from attending classes at an international school in the Stockholm region until he agreed to remove the mask he was wearing. She is now complaining to the local municipality.

Linus decided to wear a face mask when he returned to classes at the British International School Stockholm (BISS) in Danderyd, outside Stockholm, on Monday. The school teaches around 550 children aged 3-17, according to its website.

“I decided to wear a mask to school. The first lesson [goes] fine with it on. But then in the beginning of lesson two, the teacher asks me to take my mask off, and I of course say that I didn’t want to because of the coronavirus,” he wrote in an email, forwarded to The Local.

Linus said he was then made to wait isolated in a room for three hours before his mother, Sarah Jefford, a wine educator who grew up in Switzerland, was able to pick him up. 

“I was fuming,” she said. “I am deeply shocked by these measures and find it unacceptable. It should be a matter of choice. I don’t think one should be prevented from wearing a mask.”

Linus stayed at home between Monday and Wednesday before deciding, along with his parents, that the damage from missing school was worse than the risk of not wearing a mask, and returning to school without one on Thursday. 

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Jefford said that the school had showed little understanding or flexibility, particularly as it had shifted children to distance learning for the two weeks leading up to the sportlov school break last week, following a coronavirus outbreak in which a number of staff were infected (24 staff members and nine cases among students in the older year groups, according to an email the school sent to parents, seen by The Local).

She said she had contacted the local Danderyd municipality to complain, but had not yet had a response. 

Carl Hudson, the school’s headmaster, explained in an emailed statement to The Local that although the school could not comment on individual cases, on the subject of masks, it followed the advice of the Stockholm region’s infectious diseases unit, Smittskydd Stockholm.

“In the current recommendations from Smittskydd Stockholm it is explicitly stated that they do not recommend masks in the classroom environment at the moment,” he said.

“As we interpret it, it is their assessment that, at the moment, the benefit of masks, which they recommend elsewhere, is not large enough to outweigh the downside of reduced learning and communication in the classroom.”

He confirmed the school had moved to remote learning two weeks before the break, the first week on the recommendation of Stockholm’s infectious diseases unit, “due to a larger than normal number of cases among our staff”, and the second week “due to the absence of staff recovering from Covid”. He added that pupils aged over 13 were still being taught online, “so we are not fully open for in-school learning”.

Stockholm’s regional coronavirus recommendations currently include using face masks on public transport at all times, as well as in situations where close contact can’t be avoided, for example in the workplace, hairdressing salons, pharmacies or the supermarket.

It does not however extend to schools. “At school it remains the case that face masks are only recommended in the specific situation where you, as an adult, cannot maintain distance for an extended period of time. In general, the use of face masks is not recommended in school environments,” the region said in a press statement as it called for masks to be used on public transport. 

Stockholm’s acting infectious disease doctor Maria Rotzén Östlund told The Local: “We don’t have any recommendations concerning wearing face masks in school. It’s a question for the Public Health Agency of Sweden.”

The Public Health Agency does not advise against face masks for children in its guidelines, but states: “Children do not need to wear face masks. It is difficult for children to handle and wear face masks the right way, and children are not the drivers [of infection] in this epidemic and do not spread infection in the same way as adults.”

(updated on Friday to add quote from Stockholm’s infectious disease doctor)

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