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Coronavirus crisis: Mask breaks, outdoor learning as WA students, staff make new adjustments for COVID

It was a day of firsts for little Edward Harrison — not only did he start Year 1, it was also his first time wearing a face mask.

But there were no first day of school tears from the six-year-old on Monday as he and his brother, Oscar, 10, showed off their new masks.

The boys and their two older brothers attend Claremont private school Christ Church Grammar, which has “strongly encouraged” all students to wear masks from Pre-primary onwards.

Masks have been mandated for secondary students in most of WA as more than 477,000 students returned to public and private schools on Monday.

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While they are not yet compulsory for primary school students, Year 3s and above will have to wear masks when COVID-19 cases increase significantly.

Mother Lara Harrison said her two youngest sons were excited about wearing masks for the first time.

“I’m sure the novelty might wear off, but at the moment it’s just part of the excitement of the new school year,” she said.

“I think any measures that they can put in place to keep our kids safe and still going to school I’m very happy to comply with.”

Camera IconEdward (6) and Oscar Harrison (10) at Christ Church Grammar School. Credit: Simon Santi/The West Australian

Christ Church principal Alan Jones said there had been little in the way of pushback from parents about the requirement for small boys to wear masks.

He said Christ Church was a kindergarten to Year 12 school where older boys frequently mixed with younger boys, and he also wanted to do all he could to protect frontline staff.

Students will be able to take their masks off outside while eating.

“There’ll be education in classes on how the mask wearing is working,” Mr Jones said. “Boys will be taken outside, there’ll be mask breaks. To have young kids for six hours with a mask on is not practical, so we’re doing a lot of outside learning.”

“Like anything, the little boys want to be just like the big boys.”

Education Minister Sue Ellery said a lot of effort had gone into making sure schools were safe for students to return, including mandated COVID vaccinations for school staff, a ventilation strategy and remote learning contingency plans.

She said the Education Department and schools had also worked hard to fill teaching vacancies in public schools across the State, with more than 700 new graduates taking up their first teaching jobs.

Ms Ellery told West Live the first day of the school year was always a mix of excitement and a little anxiety.

“We want to do everything in our power to make sure schools proceed as normal, but we know we are going to be calling on people’s resilience a little bit … because it’s going to be a little bit of a bumpy year,” she said.

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