ESSEX COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) – Multiple governors and school boards across the country and in Central Virginia have ended their mask mandates, following Governor Glenn Youngkin’s executive order.
But in Essex County, the school board made a decision that affects more than just mask wearing. The board voted last week to get rid of all COVID-19 mitigation policies. The school district is one of the only Virginia school districts that have made the decision to do so.
Dozens of Essex County parents, students and teachers protested the board’s decision Thursday afternoon near Tappahannock Elementary school.
“We are here to protect our families,” said parent Gene Quarles, who worries about the health safety of his 14-year-old daughter who has Type 1 diabetes.
Teacher Michelle Dungee spoke at the rally, talking about the importance of COVID-19 protocols that include cleaning and masking. “Don’t just come in and wipe everything away from us,” she said.
“These protocols are not just stopping COVID, they have stopped the flu. They have stopped the common cold,” Dungee said.
Across Central Virginia, many school districts have wiped away their mask mandates, including Chesterfield and Powhatan counties.
In Essex County, their school board not only voted to follow Governor Youngkin’s executive order and get rid of their mask mandate, but they also voted to stop all COVID mitigation strategies including testing, quarantining, contacting tracing, specialized cleaning on buses, within the schools and in all school facilities.
The motion, made by school board member Scott Croxton, states the board affirms that the existing mitigation strategies and protocols are not practicable and they hinder efforts to educate students. The motion was approved four to two. Superintendent Harry Thomas voted against the motion.
“These past couple of days, I had kids come to me asking me all kinds of questions, am I going to die,” said Steve Coles, one of several teachers at the rally Thursday.
Mom Stephanie Stiles said lives shouldn’t be put at risk. “I have a son who’s asthmatic and has other congenital problems that make him at higher risk,” she explained.
But with the Essex County school board getting rid of all safety protocols, parent Ronnie Sidney just doesn’t think it’s right, or safe.
“There’s no white flag that should be waved yet,” Sidney told the crowd Thursday.
8News reached out to Essex County schools’ superintendent and board for a response to the protest and haven’t heard back.
The Virginia Senate did pass a bill allowing parents to send their children to school without a mask. The bill has more hurdles to get through, but Gov. Youngkin could sign it into law by the end of the school year.