RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — In the days since Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin issued Executive Order 2, allowing parents to “elect for their children not to be subject to any mask mandate,” school divisions in Central Virginia have released updated information regarding their mask policies.
On Thursday, the Chesterfield County School Board voted to keep its policy of universal masking in place for the time being, but vowed to revisit the policy once new guidance on how to implement Youngkin’s executive order is released from the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE).
Earlier in the week, on Tuesday, the Richmond School Board voted to uphold the school division’s mask mandate, which requires all students, staff and visitors — including partners, contractors, families and volunteers — to wear a face mask while on Richmond Public Schools (RPS) property. This applies to individuals both inside and outside, regardless of vaccination status.
However, Executive Order 2 states, “No parent electing that a mask mandate should not apply to his or her child shall be required to provide a reason or make any certification concerning their child’s health or education.” The order also reads, “A child whose parent has elected that he or she is not subject to a mask mandate should not be required to wear a mask under any policy implemented by a teacher, school, school district, the Department of Education, or any other state authority.”
Executive Order 2 goes into effect at 12 a.m. on Monday, Jan. 24, 2022, “and shall remain in full force and effect until amended or rescinded by further executive order.”
In light of this order, a number of school divisions in Central Virginia are taking another look at their mask policies, or getting rid of such policies altogether.
In Colonial Heights, Superintendent Dr. William Sroufe issued a notice to the school community on Sunday, stating that health mitigation protocols and expectations would continue to remain in place through at least the end of the week, including the requirement that all staff and students wear masks.
“Over the next few days, we will closely monitor any possible updates to the executive order and other laws in place that appear to conflict with the order,” Dr. Sroufe wrote. “The safety of our students and staff will always be our first priority.”
8News reached out to the superintendent for an update on the school division’s mask policy, but has yet to receive a response.
Goochland County Public Schools Superintendent Jeremy Raley issued a notice to the school community on Monday, with similar information. The advisory stated that the school division’s existing mask order would remain in effect until at least Monday, Jan. 24. Goochland County Public Schools’ mask policy requires staff, students and visitors in the division’s schools, buses and offices to wear facial coverings.
In Hanover County, the School Board is scheduled to meet on Monday, Jan. 24 to make a decision on facial coverings for students and staff in its public schools. The topic is listed as an action item on the Board’s agenda, meaning Board members will be expected to cast their votes on the matter, alongside a presentation of legal information as it relates to mask policies.
In Henrico County, a notice from the school division was published on Sunday, noting that Henrico County Public Schools “will continue to follow the recommendations of health experts and require all students, staff and visitors to wear face masks at schools and facilities.” The only exceptions to this mandate are during mealtime, when outdoors with physical distancing, or while participating in designated athletic activities.
“Mask use is a vital component of the division’s layered prevention measures, which reduce the spread of illness in our schools and increase the division’s ability to offer in-person instruction as mandated by state law,” the notice said. “The CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] continues to recommend using masks in schools, and federal law requires the use of face coverings while on school buses.”
In the City of Hopewell, school officials issued an updated statement on their mask policy late Thursday night.
“Students and staff must continue to wear masks to enter our classrooms and board our buses until the health guidance suggests a change or the existing relevant laws change,” the statement said. “This has been a sacrifice for all of us but ultimately it has put our students at the center so that they can be back in our schools to learn and it has helped us have very little spread of the virus within our schools.”
The school division’s health mitigation strategies had previously been updated on Jan. 7, 2022. But Hopewell City Public Schools’ mask requirement remained unchanged from its last update on Oct. 7, 2021. The policy required all students to wear masks while indoors and on school provided transportation. The only exceptions were while eating or napping, or while outdoors if six feet of distancing could be maintained. The mask requirement did not apply to Pre-K students.
8News reached out to Hopewell City Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Melody Hackney on Thursday for an update on the school division’s mask policy. New messaging is reportedly forthcoming.
“As we await further clarification from the Virginia General Assembly and the Virginia Supreme Court, we will continue moving forward with our current guidelines of requiring masks for both staff and students at this time,” he said.
In the City of Petersburg, the school division’s website stated, “Though state requirements may change regarding mask wearing, PCPS [Petersburg City Public Schools] will continue to require mask wearing in all division buildings.” 8News reached out to the school division to see if there would be an update to this policy in light of Executive Order 2. A spokesperson said that PCPS officials are waiting on guidance from the VDOE to inform what they do moving forward.
Over in Powhatan County, the School Board previously cast their votes in favor of allowing parents to make the choice for their children when it comes to masks in the classroom. The new policy takes effect on Monday, while all other safety protocols, such as a cleaning and social distancing, will remain in place.
In Prince George County, Superintendent Dr. Lisa Pennycuff issued a notice to the school community on Monday, Jan. 17, stating that students and staff would need to continue to wear masks through at least Friday, Jan. 21. An additional update on the school division’s mask policy moving forward is expected on Sunday, Jan. 23.
The Spotsylvania County School Board met Tuesday to discuss recent CDC updates, including an overview of Gov. Youngkin’s Executive Order 2. At the meeting, the Board voted to rescind the current mask requirement for students and visitors, starting Monday, Jan. 24. This does not, however, apply to school buses, as the federal requirement regarding wearing face masks on all forms of public transportation, which includes school buses, remains in place. Employees will still be required to wear masks.
But without an executive order requiring Virginia’s school divisions to follow CDC recommendations for universal masking, questions remain about how face covering requirements will be enforced in school divisions that choose to maintain such mandates, and what will happen with contact tracing and quarantining, once parents have a choice to send their children to school without masks.
Spotsylvania County Public Schools has provided some guidance on this front. In the aforementioned statement shared with the school community on Wednesday, officials said that the division’s isolation and quarantine protocols would be updated on Monday, Jan. 24.
Starting next week, individuals who are confirmed to have COVID-19 or are showing symptoms of the virus need to isolate regardless of their vaccination status. However, in line with the new CDC guidance, such individuals need only isolate for five full days if they are fever-free for 24 hours and if symptoms have improved. At the end of five days, isolation may end if individuals wear a well-fitting mask around others for an additional five days.
The school division also noted that certain individuals would not need to quarantine after a close contact with someone who had COVID-19:
- Those age 18 or older and have received all recommended vaccine doses, including boosters and additional primary shots for some immunocompromised people
- Those age 5-17 years who have completed the primary series of the COVID-19 vaccine
- Those who had confirmed COVID-19 within the last 90 days (tested positive using a viral test)
In terms of enforcement, RPS’ mitigation strategies stated that staff who do not adhere to mask guidance are subject to disciplinary action. However, this does not include information about enforcement measures for students in terms of the school division’s mask requirement.
Similarly, in Henrico County Public Schools, a spokesperson told 8News that the expectation is that all students, staff and visitors will continue to wear masks.
“This has been our practice all year,” Chief of Communications Eileen Cox said. “If parents have a concern, they should speak with the principal to address the issue individually.”
The VDOE has not yet issued an update to its COVID-19 prevention guidance and requirements for schools, which originally required all students, teachers, staff and visitors age 2 and older to wear a mask indoors in private and public Pre-K through 12th grade school settings, regardless of vaccination status.