HANOVER, Va. (WRIC) — The Hanover County School Board voted unanimously at their Monday meeting to comply with Governor Youngkin’s executive order ending mask mandates in public schools.
But students heading in to school tomorrow morning will still be required to wear their masks, as board members made clear. The new policy will go into effect next week, at the start of the school system’s second semester on Jan. 31.
That decision was made to ensure administrators have time to finalize their implementation of the new rules, amid complicated legal questions over what exactly is expected of students.
As legal counsel explained to the board, while they can reverse the mask mandate in schools, a federal order from the CDC still requires students to wear masks on school buses – a policy that they have no authority to override.
A Contentious Debate
For an hour before the board’s final vote, speakers approached the podium to voice their opinions on the mask mandate. At times, the crowd grew rowdy, leading board member John Axselle III to admonish them for interrupting other speakers and holding up signs after being asked not to.
Immediately after Axselle called for civility, a man said he’d heard at least one board member was planning to vote against revoking the mandate, and called them a coward.
“Yes, I just called you a coward,” he said. “If not a coward, then a feckless bureaucrat.”
He went on to question the effectiveness of masks, saying, “A piece of cloth or paper isn’t gonna stop a damn thing.”
One student at Patrick Henry pleaded with the board to consider the consequences of revoking the mandate, saying he was concerned for peers with compromised immune systems and those whose parents wouldn’t allow them to be vaccinated.
He also said he was afraid teachers would move to take jobs in localities that did uphold their mask mandates, “I really like my teachers, and I don’t want them to leave the county.”
Another speaker brought her daughter to the podium, and spoke about her support for parental choice.
“We took our children out of Hanover County [schools] because we didn’t like the rules,” she said.
A representative of the Hanover Professional Educators and Hanover Education Association spoke in favor of the mask mandate, saying the overwhelming majority of their members were in support of it “at least until COVID is over.”
He also said the county hadn’t properly supported other mitigation measures like proper ventilation, social distancing and contact tracing that might help prevent the spread of COVID-19 without the need for a mask mandate.
Hanover is just the latest locality in Central Virginia to take action on their mask mandates following the governor’s executive order.
Chesterfield also voted to keep their mask mandate, but with a caveat – they would reconsider that decision once the administration releases full guidance on implementing a mask-optional policy.
You can see how localities across Central Virginia have approached the new order here.