HAMPTON ROADS, Va. (WAVY) — Local schools are updating their mask guidance as newly-elected Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s executive order seeks to end mask mandates on school grounds.
A Chesapeake mother of three, Katie Kain, tells WAVY she is angry and scared.
“My youngest is only safe at school if she’s surrounded by people wearing masks,” she said.
Her 3-year-old daughter, Ava, is at high risk for COVID-19 complications and receives hours of therapy through school each week. Kain believes the governor’s order is dangerous for her daughter.
“I’m frustrated that it’s 2022 and we as a society do not include disabled people in our plans,” she said.
On Saturday, shortly after Youngkin took office as Virginia’s 74th governor, he issued nine executive orders. One of the orders ends the statewide COVID-19 mask mandate in K-12 schools beginning Jan. 24, 2022.
The executive order calls the mask mandates in schools “ineffective and impractical.”
The Virginia Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics on Monday issued a statement urging children to continue to wear masks in schools.
“The Virginia Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics (VA-AAP) strongly recommends that school aged children, regardless of vaccination status, wear a well-fitting face mask while attending school.
“Any successful comprehensive plan to protect children against the Omicron variant and other future variants of COVID-19 includes being up to date on COVID-19 vaccination and consistent wearing of face masks during times of infection surge.
“Face masks remain safe and reliable, and children have demonstrated their ability to wear them effectively. In addition to protecting a child, face mask use significantly reduces the spread of SARS-CoV2 and other respiratory infections, thus keeping schools operational and ensuring children do not miss in person school.”
With the latest move from the governor, schools in Hampton Roads have updated their guidance.
On Sunday, Virginia Beach City Public Schools (VBCPS) released a statement to families and staff saying that their “existing rules regarding masks will remain in place” as they work to understand “how this order impacts us and how best to comply.”
Norfolk Public Schools echoed VBCPS’s statement in a message to parents Monday stating that they will “adhere to the existing health and safety protocols” outlined in the NPS Health Mitigation Plan, which includes a requirement for the wearing of masks while on school buses and within our schools and division-wide facilities.
The statement from NPS Superintendent Sharon I. Byrdsong says school officials will continue to collaborate with and follow the expert guidance of local health professionals from the Norfolk Department of Public Health as well as the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The NPS statement, however, stopped short of mentioning that Youngkin’s executive order takes effect the following week.
Suffolk Public Schools say they expecting updates on the guidance Friday, but reiterated that masks will remain on for the rest of the week.
In a message to parents Monday, SPS officials thanked the community for their patience and stated that they respect the decisions parents make for their children, but stated that school leaders are still responsible for the safety of 14,000 students and 2,300 employees in the community.
Southampton County Public Schools will continue to require everyone wear a mask on school grounds and on school buses, according to a message sent out on Monday.
In Portsmouth, school officials clarified that students and staff must still be masked while at school this week, Jan. 17 – Jan. 21, and that they will be discussing the order during a school board meeting set for Thursday, Jan. 20.
In Newport News, school officials say they will also require masks this week. The school division set an update on the mask guidance by Friday, Jan. 21.
Gloucester County Public Schools sent a message to families and staff Monday afternoon addressing Executive Order Number 2. The call stated, in part, “The executive order indicates that parents may elect for their children not to be subject to any mask mandate in effect at the child’s school or educational program. GCPS is carefully reviewing this information, and will provide an update on the protocols that we will follow by the end of the week. I anticipate that we will receive additional information and guidance this week from the Virginia Department of Health, the Virginia Department of Education, and learn what implications there are from Senate Bill 1303 in relation to the executive order.”
In the meantime, Gloucester Public Schools will continue to follow the current health and safety protocols in place, including the wearing of masks by all students and staff when in school buildings and buses.
The York County School Division posted the following to its social media pages on Monday:
Tomorrow morning and all this week, students and staff will continue to be required to wear masks in schools and on school buses in accordance with the protocols we have had in place this school year.York County School Division
Executive Order 2 has implications that affect the operations of all school divisions in the Commonwealth, and we anticipate receiving additional guidance from the state in the coming days. As masks are one layer of the division’s mitigation strategies to reduce the spread of COVID-19, we will provide an update regarding mitigation strategies and policies prior to Monday, January 24. Our priority, as always, continues to be the safety and well-being of our students and staff.
Williamsburg-James City County Schools issued a statement saying they have relied on the CDC, VDH and their Health Advisory Team through the pandemic and will continue to do so. They are awaiting guidance from the Virginia Department of Education. Until then, all existing COVID-19 protocols remain in place. That includes universal masking in all WJCC schools and on school buses. The school system says it plans to share updated on this matter with families by the end of this week.
Elsewhere in Virginia, several school districts have also made it clear mask mandates are here to stay, at least for now.
Virginians who have not been fully vaccinated, or are eligible for booster doses, can visit vaccinate.virginia.gov or call 1-877-VAX-IN-VA (877) 829-4682 to find nearby vaccination clinics.
Those seeking to find or schedule a testing appointment can visit vase.vdh.virginia.gov/testingappointment.