Mask mandate for Virginia schools sparks questions about intent of the law

Coronavirus

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC/WAVY) — Gov. Ralph Northam says teachers, students and other school staff will have to put on a mask whether they are vaccinated or not. Northam says a bipartisan bill passed by the General Assembly makes it the law. However, there’s controversy over the intent of that law.

State Sen. Siobhan Dunnavant (R-Henrico), who sponsored the legislation guiding in-person learning for Virginia schools, says the governor is reading it wrong. She said, “That’s not what the bill says. The bill says you should follow CDC guidelines maximally as practicable.”

The senator, who is also a physician, says a mask mandate for kids is just not practical.

“Are kids going to have their masks on when they are at lunch? What’s going to happen if their masks are off? Are they going to be expelled from school?” she asked.

The Governor and other Democrats in the General Assembly argue the law passed earlier this year clearly states schools must follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, and the current CDC guidelines say mask up.

The Virginia Education Association is applauding the mask mandate. Last month, the VEA, which represents teachers across the state, called for masks to continue in schools. The Chesterfield Education Association is in line with that as they see it as a matter of safety and the key to keeping kids in the classroom.

Christine Melendez, president of the Chesterfield Education Association said, “We know that being in the classroom physically is very important of all of us.”

Still, Melendez admits there’s concern about that line in the bill that says “to the maximum extent practicable.”

“There’s a concern that children, students ages between two and 12, who haven’t been vaccinated yet, may be given the option for parent choice to wear mask and that’s concerning because at the end of the day kids are leaky,” she said.

Chesterfield schools has yet to announce its mask policy. The school board is expected to vote on it next week.

In Chesapeake, school officials previously voted to give students and staff at Chesapeake Public Schools the option of not wearing masks on school grounds. Parents must fill out an exemption form if they want their students to be maskless.

There have also been several contentious meetings in Virginia Beach over whether masks should be required. A resolution that would have made the face coverings optional — aside from any overarching state order — was defeated during a meeting July 20 by a 6-4 vote.

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