Can Swedish schools send students home for wearing face masks?

Sweden’s education authority has told public broadcaster SVT the country’s Education Act does not give schools the power to send students home from school for wearing a face mask – after The Local wrote about a teen who was told to remove his mask.

Can Swedish schools send students home for wearing face masks?
A Swedish school last week sent a student home for wearing a face mask. Photo: Stina Stjernkvist/TT

A spokesperson for Sweden’s National Agency for Education (Skolverket) made the comments in an interview with public broadcaster SVT, after The Local first reported on the story of Linus, 13, who was sent home from school after he declined to remove his face mask.

Linus’ mother Sarah Jefford told The Local at the time that her son decided to wear a face mask when he returned to classes at the British International School Stockholm (BISS) in Danderyd, outside Stockholm, after the school had been temporarily closed following a local coronavirus outbreak in which more than 30 staff and students were infected, as well as over the annual school sports break.

“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, 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.”

SVT on Sunday also published an interview with Jefford and Linus, and spoke with Skolverket who said that Sweden’s Education Act does not give schools the legal right to send students home for wearing, or not wearing, a face mask.

“The only situation really where you can send a student home is if the principal decides on suspension, if that option is needed to secure other students’ safety and studies,” a Skolverket spokesperson told SVT.

Linus stayed at home between Monday and Wednesday last week 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.

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.”

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.”

Member comments

  1. Please just don’t let anyone take the Covid hysteria into schools. Children need to be protected from this craze as well as from certain physical and social harm from masks and diverse restrictions instead of hypothetical risks.

  2. It appears that masks in schools in Stockholm are neither mandated nor prohibited. Therefore they should be considered optional – as Linus and his mother have argued – depending on a student’s comfort level in their classroom and individual school setting. I fail to understand why this would be a problem for anyone considering we’re in the midst of a public health crisis in Danderyd/Stockholm. I question Mr. Hudson’s logic that masks detract from the learning environment. Hogwash. Didn’t he just close the British International School for a month because his staff were dropping like flies from COVID? Masks should be allowed until the end of the school year, fewer than three months away. Doing so might help prevent the spread of COVID and save lives – and reassure students and their parents, and teachers and administrators alike that the school environment is as safe as practically possible.

  3. He is 13. he should be able to wear a mask if he likes. And a little more hysteria in Sweden might have protected a LOT of people. Have you noticed your neighboring countries and their counts?

  4. I really like the responsibility ping pong that Swedish authorities are playing (‘we are not responsible for this but, it’s in the jurisdiction of the xyz authority’); adds
    well to a pretty condescending (and unsuccessful) attempt to stop people thinking and acting differently from the (confusing) party line. Markus don’t you agree that this kid just felt uncomfortable with the level of preventative measures in his school and that he wasn’t exactly causing a panic (god forbid anyone panicked by that steps on a bus these days!)…?

    Wearing a mask isn’t exactly an intrusion to others, that’s all. It shows a tremendous level of insecurity if the director feels himself or his community threatened by that. Sad.

  5. To me at leats it’s just another evidence of the lack of freedom in Sweden, and it’s getting quite worrying that thise type of cases are intensifying (or only now made public more). It feels like as Sweden citizens or residents you have your freedom rights as long as you respect some pre-defined procedures that are not always defined in our best interest. And yes , no one takes responsibility, they just point fingers.

  6. I think that everyone should have the right to wear a face mask and in fact that it should be mandatory in certain places and situations. It has been proven that children can also transmit the virus so it is our best interest to protect ourselves and others.

  7. The Swedish method of consensus is not appropriate when it comes to matters of public safety. The often repeated statement by Tegnell that “Wearing a mask might lead to people ignoring other safety measures” is not based on any evidence is basically half-baked nonsense. Wearing a mask makes you more aware of the situation you are in.
    Also the quote from the public health service

    “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.

    On what scientific basis do they make any of these statements? None. If a child or an adult wears a mask incorrectly they can be corrected. What evidence is there of how children may or may not be carriers of the virus and what research is there on the involvement of children in spreading the infection.. again zero.

    1. Update

      The European CDC (Headquartered in Solna) noted in Dec 2020 that; the prevalence of C19 amongst children aged 12 – 19 is similar to the general population. They also note that face-masks in school have a positive effect when combined with other measures.

      Maybe the Swedish Authorities should pop round to the ECDC and get an update on the latest knowledge and recommendations. Their address is: Gustav III:s Boulevard 40, 169 73 Solna

      1. Update 2 – Oh isn’t it funny Tegnell lives near Linköping, from where he commutes daily to his work in Solna, Stockholm. The ECDC is literally in the same town he works in. I wonder what these people do all day?

        Tegnell’s also the person who approved vaccination of 5m people during the Swine Flu period, which caused 500+ young Swedes to develop narcolepsy. This was in spite of evidence of neurological damage in the UK and the US FDA refusing approval of the vaccine.

        Not a great track record on making the right decisions.

    2. Indeed I am more and more convinced that Tegnell is an absolute idiot. He’s really as thick as mince.
      Children can learn EVERYTHING and can be given responsibilities, if you teach them that everyone can make their part to help out. Instead they have not only excluded children from the equation, but also the adults, since the general received message is: well if this is just a recommendation then this virus is not that big thing isn’t it. Result: I found myself as the only idiot on a bus wearing a mask.

  8. This is a violation of freedom. If someone chooses to wear a mask and feels safer doing so, than that is their choice. They are actually protecting others as well. Some students may have family members in the risk group and since you aren’t aloud to home school here, than wearing a mask should be encouraged. My friend’s who have children back in Canada say their children are used to masks. It hasn’t caused fear but they think it’s cool to wear them like the adults. Sweden has been so lucky they haven’t endured anything
    “ bad” or “ scary” like this in a long time. It’s good for people to have a healthy awareness that bad things can happen. We are not untouchable. How do you think it was for children during world war 2? This is mild compared to that. It can be a good lesson on how to prepare for tragedy in the future.

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