CHESAPEAKE, Va. (WAVY) — The president of the Chesapeake Education Association says members ratified a vote of no confidence in the city’s school board following the board’s decision to make masks optional in schools.

Now, they are also planning a protest.

“The School Board’s actions have been hostile toward staff attempts to serve all students in these uncertain times,” the union wrote, adding that the “decision demonstrates that the School Board lacks a sincere desire to support a meaningfully safe environment in our school buildings. The potential of negative, life-threatening impacts further bolsters this position of NO CONFIDENCE.”

Chesapeake’s board voted 7-1 on January 20 to make masks optional starting Monday, January 24, in line with Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s (R-Va.) executive order to make face masks optional in K-12 schools. Since signing the order, Youngkin has been sued by 13 Chesapeake parents and several school districts, including Hampton’s.

The Chesapeake board was also named in the parents’ suit.

The union, which is an affiliate of the National Education Association (NEA) and the Virginia Education Association (VEA) did say “the statement of no confidence has no effect beyond public disapproval.” Teachers unions in Virginia still have limited influence on school district decisions, because even though a recent change in Virginia law allows unions to bargain for a contract, districts still have to recognize the union. Chesapeake still has yet to recognize the union by a local resolution.

“It’s a communication opportunity for all community members and educators that the school board has not made good decisions that supports education of students,” Reagan Davis, the CEA president, said Monday. “Several decisions have been made by the school board without consulting educators.”

Davis said the board’s reluctance to adopt the state’s transgender policy also played a role in the vote.

At Monday night’s meeting nearly a dozen people showed up dressed in all black. CEA is encouraging an “educator blackout” in support of health and safety and in protest of the school board’s decision.

“CPS employees are encouraged to work to contract hours as much as practicable and decline additional duties and responsivities,” a statement on their Facebook page reads.

In addition to overall safety concerns, there are also staffing and student quarantine issues with the highly contagious omicron variant. Several Chesapeake schools have had to switch to virtual learning.

Chesapeake’s COVID dashboard as of Monday, January 24 shows 255 new cases across the district, and more than 1,700 in the last two weeks. The most recent staff and student quarantine data (which is updated each Wednesday) shows about 200 staff members under quarantine, including more than 100 at the elementary school level and about 3,000 students under quarantine. More than 40% of COVID tests in Chesapeake are coming back positive.

However when it comes to the no confidence vote, Chair of the School Board Harry Murphy said the CEA only represents around 14% of CPS employees.

“Of course it means something. But I don’t know how many members of the Chesapeake Education Association voted for that,” Murphy said. “I have heard from hundreds of teachers and employees that are happy with the decisions we are making.”

More than 100 members participated in the vote Davis said.

You can read the full letter of no confidence here.