A schoolgirl who took legal action against her school for “requiring” pupils to wear face masks has lost her fight in the High Court.
The 12-year-old, known only as AB, was exempted from wearing a face covering at school but decided to take action because she claims wearing masks “risks causing children serious harm” to their physical and mental health.
She sued the Tapton Academy School Trust, which runs a number of primary and secondary schools in the Sheffield area, to stop it from “requiring or encouraging” children to wear masks at school to prevent the spread of COVID.
But the trust argued that it only encourages the wearing of masks, in line with government guidance, in order to protect children, staff and visitors.
The trust also said that 120 members of staff across its various schools, representing more than 10% of its total staff, have contracted coronavirus since the end of August 2020.
In a judgement on Wednesday, Judge Roger ter Haar QC rejected the request for an injunction, as the pupil is not required to wear a mask and the injunction was not necessary to protect her health and safety.
He said: “The case as presently put forward by the claimant suffers from a fundamental defect: the school does not require the claimant to wear a mask – she has been treated as being exempt from that requirement.”
The judge said he made “no conclusions whatsoever as to the safety or otherwise of requiring children to wear face masks at school”.
The judgement comes after a group of unions and scientists said masks should remain in secondary-school classrooms in England beyond mid-May to prevent negative “consequences” on the health of pupils and parents.
At a remote hearing last week, AB’s lawyers asked the High Court to grant an interim injunction preventing her school and the trust from making children wear masks.
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Francis Hoar, representing AB, told the court: “The school’s policy risks causing children serious harm to their physical health and their mental health.”
Hoar added: “If the trust had done its job properly… it would have gathered evidence and reached a view as to the effectiveness of this particular measure, but it has done no such thing.
“There is no evidence, effectively, of the efficacy of these instruments that are supposedly necessary to avoid the risk of transmission of the virus.”
Hoar accepted that AB did not have to wear a mask at school, but added: “The child is still faced with a school environment where a child, save those who are disabled should, must rather, wear masks, and that is enforced, the child says, aggressively.”
But Ben Bentley, representing the trust, told the court that “the trust policy is to encourage, not to enforce” the wearing of masks.
A joint letter sent to education secretary Gavin Williamson on Tuesday claimed that face coverings are “an essential part of the wider system of control in schools” and should continue to be required until at least 21 June.
The letter, from five unions representing teachers and support staff, as well as scientists, public-health experts and parents, highlights concerns about the risks of developing long COVID, warning that an estimated 43,000 children and 114,000 school staff are thought to be suffering from the condition.
It came after schools minister Nick Gibb said last week that he hoped pupils would no longer have to wear face masks in class in secondary schools and colleges in England from mid-May.
But he said the decision on whether to lift the precautionary measure when further easing of social contact limits indoors are confirmed, which will happen no earlier than 17 May, will depend on “the data”.
The Department for Education has said it expects to remove the requirement on secondary school pupils and staff to wear masks in class as part of the next stage of lifting the lockdown.
Any changes to the policy will be confirmed with one week’s notice following a review of the latest data on infection and vaccination rates.
The letter came as Office for National Statistics figures suggest fewer secondary school pupils and staff in England tested positive for COVID shortly after schools fully reopened in March compared to the autumn term.
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