Virginia Beach School Board member speaks out after being removed from meeting for not wearing a mask

Education

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — A Virginia Beach Public Schools board member was voted out of a school board meeting by fellow board members on Sept. 9. Now, she’s arguing she was in line with the Virginia Public Schools policy on wearing masks.    

Attorney Gary Byler won’t confirm whether he’s going to court on this matter, but he says he very well could while representing Virginia Beach School Board member Laura Hughes.

“We are going to try to work it out with the authorities, but if not, it will come to a head… We want to work it out, and my client is right.” 

Byler’s client, Hughes, was seen sitting in the board room seats socially distanced from other people in the room. She was in a seat by the wall. That is her point: For her, there is no reason to wear a mask because she is not around anyone within even 20 feet.  

So, why doesn’t Hughes just wear a mask? Hughes said she is medically exempt from wearing one.

“Let’s say you find someone in a handicapped spot, and they have no visible disability would you say ‘Just park farther away’? This is no different.” 

She continued: “It is problematic for me to wear a mask for an extended period of time. I don’t have an issue for just a moment just to walk by people quickly. I don’t want to tell you what the medical condition is, but I shouldn’t have to reveal that anyway.” 

Hughes has not disclosed her medical condition, nor does she think she has to. 

During the Sept. 9 meeting, board members asked her to provide documentation so accommodations could be made for her at future meetings.

She has refused to submit the required medical exemption to allow her to not wear a mask, and claims she was too busy. 

“I have not taken the time to have a doctor’s appointment to make sure they have all the right stuff, and frankly I don’t think that I should have to,” she told fellow board members on Wednesday. 

Hughes has also refused to sit in a secluded adjacent room to participate in board meetings virtually.   

Even though the Board’s Governance Committee calls for masks, Hughes points to Virginia Beach’s own school board policy: 

“Wear a mask or cloth face covering any time social distancing of at least 6 feet is not possible.” 

However, board member Dan Edwards says the board must lead by example as students return to schools.

“We are being watched, and if we are not taking this seriously our concern is parents and staff will not take it seriously.” 

Edwards also says the board expects everyone in the meeting to wear masks and to social distance.

“It is not what we are operating on. We are expecting social distancing as well as a face mask. That is not good enough to be 6 feet apart, you need a face mask as well, yes.”

Some fellow board members are frustrated with Hughes. She is usually in a three-vote minority on most votes. The majority usually has 8. 

During the meeting, one board member asked, “Do we have a face shield in here? Can someone give her a face shield?” 

Another board member asked Hughes to leave.

As Hughes continued refusing to leave and to put on a mask, another board member asked, “Do we need security here?” 

After 30 minutes, Hughes’ colleagues voted 8-3 to remove her from the meeting. 

On Monday, a video popped up on Facebook.  It was pointed out by Hughes’ detractors that she was wearing a mask in a restaurant on Sunday, but refuses to wear one at board meetings.  

However, upon closer examination by 10 On Your Side we saw Hughes at a Sunday fundraiser. It shows her walking into the restaurant wearing a mask.  In the video, she goes to a table, and takes off the mask once she sits down. She then gets up, puts on the mask, and goes to another table to get a chair. In fairness to Hughes, experts say that is the standard thing to do in a restaurant, especially if social distancing is not available as it was in the school board room.

The face mask or no face mask issue comes to a head again on Thursday when Hughes plans to attend an emergency school board meeting, without a mask.  

10 On Your Side will also be there.


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