Move to make face masks optional in Virginia Beach schools fails, contentious meetings continue

Education

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — It still remains to be seen if students and staff will have to wear face coverings when they attend Virginia Beach City Public Schools in the fall.

A resolution that would have made the face coverings optional — aside from any overarching state order — was defeated during a meeting Tuesday night by a 6-4 vote.

The vote was met by outbursts from many of those in the gallery shouting “recall, recall” and “communists.” Making for some of the less contentious moments of the meeting.

The issue of mask wearing has long been politicized. More than 100 parents, students and political advocates that don’t want a requirement to wear masks at school this fall, held a rally ahead of the meeting at the municipal center.

They held signs saying “masking kids equals child abuse” and “I want to breathe.”

“School is right around the corner and nobody wants their kids in masks,” event organizer Amy Palumbo said.

This rally comes the day after the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended that all kids should wear them, regardless of the immunization status.

However there is a current statewide mandate, which requires anyone five and over to wear masks in schools that forces the school systems’ hand, no matter what local officials decide.

While it is set to expire this Sunday, Governor Ralph Northam (D-Virginia) recently said more complete guidance would be released this week.

Dr. Don Robertson, chief of staff for VBCPS, said the administration plans to put forward its full opening plan — including its stance on mask wearing — on August 10. He told school board members that an ultimate decision would be made after consultation with local health professionals.

Dr. Douglas Mitchell, director of the CHKD medical group, told 10 On Your Side that in his opinion masks are best — for now — as the more infectious Delta variant is circulating.

“Our number one priority above and beyond anything is to get the kids back in school and do it safely,” Mitchell, said. “You can look at it really as no more than a dress code, what’s appropriate attire.”

The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) has a dashboard updated every Friday that tracks variants of the virus that causes COVID-19. As of July 20, it shows 158 total cases of the Delta variant, with 33 of those cases among the 0-19 age group.

All children under 12 are advised to wear a mask as they cannot get vaccinated yet, but with older kids it’s hard for schools to determine who got the shots.

Earlier this month, the CDC released guidelines stating that vaccinated teachers and students could go mask-free in school settings,

“From the specialist of pediatrics we are better off to treat all kids the same and not single kids out and just treat everybody the same,” Dr. Mitchell said.

However that was not the intent of the resolution brought by board member Laura Hughes, which failed with members Victoria Manning, Carolyn Weems and Jennifer Franklin jointing Hughes in support. School Board Chair Carolyne Rye, Vice Chair Kim Melnyk and board members Beverly Anderson, Sharon Felton, Dottie Holtz and Trenance Riggs voted against. Board Member Jessica Owens didn’t vote.

“It seems premature to me to vote on this tonight,” Rye said.

Palumbo points to the fact that not one child in Hampton Roads has died from COVID-19 and most who do get the virus have mild symptoms or none at all. She does not believe any child needs to wear one for protection.

“They are being used for political gain and for power and control,” Palumbo said.

Control was lost often during the public comment portion of the meetings as parents lashed out at school board members. At times calling them “monsters” and “hypocrites” over the mask wearing issue.

While three people spoke via phone in support of further mask mandates. That was after the meeting was thrown into recess twice for speakers who would not leave the lectern when their comments were ruled out of order.

Manning, who spoke at the rally ahead of the meeting, said she didn’t feel people were being disrespectful. Just trying to speak to their representatives.

“I have. I have spoken to the people here. There are some things that might happen if I hadn’t spoken to them. These are good people. These are people here who care deeply about their children,” Manning said.

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