NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WAVY) — A Newport News public school community group presented a petition to the school board on Tuesday in support of extending the district’s mask mandate.

The City of Newport News is in the red, along with nearly all of the rest of the country, with high transmission of the coronavirus, the CDC’s transmission map shows, and nearly half of tests in the city are coming back positive. NNPS’ online COVID-19 dashboard reports more than 600 cases among students and staff from the first week of January alone.

Now, school staff with Red4Ed are calling on school leaders to continue mandating masks.

This comes after Gov. Glenn Youngkin signed an executive order removing the mask mandate across schools in the commonwealth and leaving the choice up to individual districts, starting next Monday, Jan. 24.

Conor Collins, a NNPS social studies teacher, created a petition over the weekend shortly after Youngkin issued his executive order. It says the governor’s order violates a Virginia state law that requires schools to follow CDC recommendations. Currently, the CDC guidance recommends masks in schools.

The petition reads: “We ask that the Newport News School Board publicly reiterate their existing commitment to CDC guidance regarding the masking of students and staff in school buildings at all times regardless of vaccination status in accordance with VA SB1303. In order for NNPS to provide quality and safe in-person instruction under SB1303, NNPS should continue to enforce its mask policy.”

The petition already has close to 100 names who support a continued mask mandate. Those include teachers, staff and students.

Several districts, including Richmond and Arlington, already plan to follow the state law and keep the mask mandate in place.

Collins worries if the mask mandate is dropped, it’ll affect staff numbers — and there’s already a shortage.

“I know of a lot of my colleagues would be uncomfortable coming to work and probably not coming to work. Some of them have the financial stability to quit, some of them don’t have that ability so they’re not entirely sure what they’d do,” said Collins.

He’s not even sure what he would do if that happened.

“We have policies that are for the good of the community inside of our schools that we enforce. Parents can’t opt out of those because it’s a community public school and if they wanted that type of situation, that’s where you have private schools,” said Collins.

However, not everyone feels that way. One comment on the NNPS Facebook post about keeping the mask mandate says “It should be a choice made by parents. Masking children all day is abuse. No more!”

Another says “Please set our kids free! Parent Choice! They are our kids, not yours!”

Newport News Public School’s spokesperson said no decisions have been made yet, but they are assessing the potential impact of Youngkin’s order.

“NNPS will continue to prioritize the health and wellbeing of students, families and staff by adhering to its current COVID-19 mitigation strategies which are aligned with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance,” the division said in an email to families this week.

Collins spoke and informed school officials of his petition at Tuesday’s school board meeting.
In an email that went out to parents earlier this week, the school division said they will keep families and staff informed and will provide further guidance by Friday.

“It’s not about masks or no masks. It’s about what the law requires us to do. We’re just going to do our due diligence and make sure that we have a position that’s in compliance with the state law,” said Douglas Brown, school board chairman.