Photo/Illutration The Fukaya city government building in Saitama Prefecture (The Asahi Shimbun)

FUKAYA, Saitama Prefecture--In a different sort of cover-up controversy, a municipal junior high school here came under fire over its perceived orders for students to wear the so-called Abenomasks to classes.

The government began distributing a pair of reusable cloth masks in April to each household under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s directive to ease public anxiety about the serious shortage of masks amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.

They have been dubbed “Abenomasks,” meaning “Abe’s masks,” as a form of ridicule against the measure.

However, the junior high school here apparently took the masks quite seriously.

The school on May 22 handed third-year students a printout instructing them on what to bring to school for their staggered attendance on May 27, according to the Fukaya municipal board of education.

In addition to homework and health reports, the printout called on students to bring the Abenomasks even if they don other masks.

It warned that students who forget to wear or bring the Abenomasks would face detention.

The education board began an inquiry into the instructions on May 24 after a parent, baffled by the printout, raised the topic on social media, unleashing a wave of criticism against the school.

The board on May 25 released a statement that said the instructions were not intended to restrict the type of masks worn by students.

“We used expressions to make the best use of the masks provided by the government, but we are not saying that students must wear only those masks,” said Mitsuharu Koyanagi, head of the education board’s secretariat.

The Abenomask program costs 46.6 billion yen ($435 million).

The cloth masks are proving unpopular because of their small size, and they are arriving at a time when masks are returning to store shelves.

Many have called the program a “waste of taxpayer money” that could have been used more wisely to battle the health crisis.