Deaf children fear being left isolated when schools return next week as face masks will make it difficult to lipread.
From 8 March, face masks will have to be worn in most classrooms in England for secondary school pupils, according to latest Government guidance, which it insists is non-binding.
But deaf pupils say the move could leave them falling behind or left out – and so are calling for transparent face masks to be worn so they can lipread.
The call has been backed by the Jewish Deaf Association, which is giving away 100 specially-designed clear masks to Jewish schools.
Dinah Mandell, a deaf 17-year-old A-Level student from north London, is among those affected.
The teen has started a petition urging the government to roll-out clear masks has been signed by more than 4,000 people in just days.
“I’m definitely concerned about it,” she said. “My teachers are going to be wearing clear masks but lots of subjects involve debates so understanding my classmates comments is going to be a huge challenge.
“It’s going to be isolating socially – making friends will be difficult because I’m new to the school as well.”
Dinah said she felt the Government had “let deaf people down again.”
Jeremy Freeman is the father of two deaf children and is himself deaf. His children attend Yavneh College in Borehamwood, whose teachers he praised for their quick response to the changing guidance.
However, he added: “If I went to school and everyone had masks on – there would be no point.”
His son, Eytan, 14, said not being able to see someone’s lips made school days more tiring for deaf students.
“Everyone finds it harder, but I think as a deaf student you use a lot more energy up,” he said.
While his teachers will be wearing clear masks, he added that rolling out clear masks across schools would help all students, and raise awareness. “I feel like it would benefit everyone,” he said.
“Most people haven’t seen transparent face masks before, you don’t go to Tescos and see them.”
According to the National Deaf Children’s Society, deaf pupils are already on average more likely to fall behind compared to hearing peers.
Fewer than half leave school with two A-levels, compared with almost two-thirds of their non-deaf peers, states the charity’s research.
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