CHESTERFIELD, Va. (WRIC) — At a special meeting called on Tuesday, Jan. 25, the Chesterfield School Board vote to make masks optional in County schools, bringing them into line with an executive order from Governor Glenn Youngkin.

A motion to give parents the choice to opt their children out of the mask mandate passed on a narrow vote of 3 to 2, with board members Ann Coker, Ryan Harter and Debbie Bailey voting in favor, while board members Dot Heffron and Kathryn Haines voted against.

But students, don’t throw away your masks just yet – they’re still required on public school buses, per a separate federal order that’s here to stay.

The Board Deliberates

Chair Ann Coker noted that although masks were no longer required, CCPS has made investments in “other mitigation strategies.” Those include HEPA filters and other HVAC improvements as well as free KN95 masks available to all teachers and students.

But Kathryn Haines pushed back on the decision, calling on the board to maintain the status quo.

“I strongly believe the prudent decision is to wait for a court decision,” she said, citing an expert who’s predicted a court decision on lawsuits challenging the governor’s executive order could come as soon as this week.

Debbie Bailey, who was one of the board members who voted to delay the board’s decision last week, said she hoped the end of universal masking would mark a return to “normalcy” for students.

Not all board members saw the change as positive. Dot Heffron, likening removing the mask mandate to wishful thinking, said, “Willing COVID to be gone does not make it so.”

What Now?

While universal masking is no more, school administration officials emphasized that there were still other mitigation strategies in place. Those include a supply of free KN95 masks for any students or staff who want them and a “test to stay” program for unvaccinated students.

That program comes with 4,500 home tests and will allow unvaccinated students to avoid long quarantines after they’re exposed to COVID-positive students.

Essentially, unvaccinated students who are identified as having been exposed would get five at-home tests to take every night for the five days following their exposure. As long as they test negative, they can stay in school for what would normally be a quarantine period.

There’s just one catch: during those five days, they have to wear a mask at school, no exceptions.