RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Gov. Ralph Northam says teachers, students and other school staff will have to put on a mask whether they are vaccinated or not. Northam says a bipartisan bill passed by the General Assembly makes it the law. However, there’s controversy over the intent of that law.
State Senator Siobhan Dunnavant (R-Henrico), who sponsored the legislation guiding in-person learning for Virginia schools, says the governor is reading it wrong. She said, “That’s not what the bill says. The bill says you should follow CDC guidelines maximally as practicable.”
The senator, who is also a physician, says a mask mandate for kids is just not practical.
“Are kids going to have their masks on when they are at lunch? What’s going to happen if their masks are off? Are they going to be expelled from school?” she asked.
The Governor and other Democrats in the General Assembly argue the law passed earlier this year clearly states schools must follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, and the current CDC guidelines say mask up.
The Virginia Education Association is applauding the mask mandate. Last month, the VEA, which represents teachers across the state, called for masks to continue in schools. The Chesterfield Education Association is in line with that as they see it as a matter of safety and the key to keeping kids in the classroom.
Christine Melendez, president of the Chesterfield Education Association said, “We know that being in the classroom physically is very important of all of us.”
Still, Melendez admits there’s concern about that line in the bill that says “to the maximum extent practicable.”
“There’s a concern that children, students ages between two and 12, who haven’t been vaccinated yet, may be given the option for parent choice to wear mask and that’s concerning because at the end of the day kids are leaky,” she said.
Chesterfield schools have yet to announce their mask policy. The school board is expected to vote on it next week.
Earlier this summer, Henrico Schools announced masks were strongly encouraged but not required. After the governor’s announcement, Henrico Schools spokesman Andy Jenks told 8News in a statement: “As a model school system, we would always follow Virginia law.”
He also told 8News the school system is making arrangements to bring updated recommendations to the school board next week.
Jenks went on to say: “We also understand that masking is only one layer of COVID-19 prevention in our schools. We are steadfast in our continued efforts to encourage daily self-screenings before reporting to work or school, ensuring physical distancing where possible, frequent cleaning of high touch areas and more. For example, in the fall, our schools will also offer plastic shields for students and/or staff who wish to add an additional layer of protection. Our schools are also developing building-specific health plans that outline procedures for visitors, classroom materials management, student seating practices, and other measures designed to prioritize the health and safety of students and staff in their buildings. We will continue to reinforce the importance of a layered approach to health-risk mitigation.”