HANOVER COUNTY, Va. (WRIC)– Mask wearing for school districts is top of mind for parents and school staff, and there’s been great debate over the policy in Hanover and Chesterfield counties.
The Chesterfield and Hanover County School Boards both took up the issue of mask requirements last night. Both of those meetings got heated, and in the end, the boards made opposite decisions.
Tuesday, the Hanover County School board made the decision to make masking optional, despite Hanover County Schools Superintendent Dr. Michael Gill’s recommendation to require masks indoors except when eating. That recommendation sparked a backlash from the crowd, even causing school board members to exit the room.
The Hanover County NAACP is now calling on the Hanover School Board to reverse the decision, calling it “irresponsible.”
Courtney Diehl is a parent who has a child in Hanover County Public Schools and was disappointed by the board’s decision.
“I don’t think it’s fair for the school system to put other children in danger because some parents don’t agree with masks,” Diehl said. “Hanover has had a massive outbreak. My daughter has had COVID. For a county with a small population to have one of the largest infection rates in Central Virginia, it’s very scary. Masks don’t hurt you.”
Catherine Diesta lives in Hanover County and told 8News that her son has special needs and will be attending Mechanicsville High School this upcoming school year. She said her son did not like wearing a mask when he attended in-person classes last school year and agrees with the school board’s decision to not require masks.
“I think they should have a choice. What’s the point of being vaccinated if you have to wear a mask? Either side shouldn’t judge each other for their choices,” Diesta said. “We should all try to get along together.”
Kaitlyn Atkinson, the mother of a Hanover County student, agrees with Diesta.
“I will tell you that my heart is happy because I feel like the science and data were examined last night,” Atkinson said. “At this present moment, this snapshot in time, I feel they made the best decision with the data and information that we have.”
She added she appreciates the board is going to be looking at the school year on a month-by-month basis and will change policies if they need to.
“I am so appreciative that they aren’t doing blanket statements for the year because I truly feel in my heart that it’s what’s best at this present time.,” Atkinson said. “Numbers and data change every day and to have the option left open to re-examine as needed is what I was most excited about! I am truly grateful they are again trusting parents to make the best decisions for their children.”
J.C. Kimes, another parent from Hanover, ultimately agreed with the board.
“This is something that I was hoping and praying for that they wouldn’t have to wear masks and I think it just would benefit my children and their teachers for helping to progress and continue to learn the right way,” he said. “I’m a big fan of the decision made last night.”
Kimes told 8News, parents should be given the right to decide if their children wear masks.
“My son’s going into the third grade and he’s not the best at reading,” he said. “I think it helps him to understand to be able to see pronunciations and things like that.”
A common theme among some parents is that they would like their children to finally feel a sense of normalcy. Leila Ward has two sons in Chesterfield County Public Schools. Ward said she wants her children back in the classroom.
“Last year there was a lot of virtual, hybrid, virtual, and then five full days back. It was a roller coaster ride for a lot of kids,” she said.
The Chesterfield School Board voted to require masks in schools with some exceptions:
- Individuals eating or drinking
- Individuals exercising or using exercise equipment
- Anyone who is playing a musical instrument when wearing a mask would inhibit the playing of the instrument
- Someone who has trouble breathing, or is unconscious, incapacitated, or otherwise unable to remove the mask without assistance
- Anyone seeking to communicate with people who are deaf or hard of hearing
- Persons with health conditions or disabilities
- When necessary to participate in a religious ritual
Ward said she is happy with the county’s decision.
“What I want and what I hope every parent wants is that our kids get back in school,” Ward said. “I feel like masks are the safest way to get our kids back and to stay back.”