CHESAPEAKE, Va. (WAVY) — The Chesapeake School Board voted 7-1 on Thursday night to remove the district’s requirements for masks.
Board member Dr. Patricia King, a licensed physician, voted against the new policy.
“I implore you to take into account the high transmission rate of the omicron variant, the record number of positive cases in the community, the number of hospitalized patients, to include our children. Even if masks help only a fraction, our children and teachers deserve the benefit of that fraction,” King said to her colleagues prior to the vote.
The changes will go into effect on Monday, Jan. 24. This is in line with Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s executive order to make face masks optional in K-12 schools in Virginia. Many parents applauded the board during Thursday’s special meeting on the change.
Youngkin’s Executive Order 2 calls the mask mandates in schools “ineffective and impractical” and orders that masks can be optional for students starting Jan. 24.
Youngkin’s signature fulfilled a “day one promise” he made during his campaign to end mask and vaccine mandates. However, it went further than he originally let on.
Days after the election, Youngkin told 10 On Your Side he would leave the decision on masks up to local school districts.
“Localities are going to have to make decisions the way the law works and that is going to be up to individual decisions but, again, from the governor’s office, you won’t see mandates from me,” Youngkin said in an interview.
The order says a parent may elect for their children not to be subjected to any mask mandate in effect at the child’s school.
Among the audience, Amber Bowmer and Matt Castillo — two of the 13 Chesapeake parents who filed a lawsuit earlier this week suing Governor Glenn Youngkin over his executive order.
“It was a gut punch. It makes things a lot less safe for my kids and then for me personally as a substitute teacher for the district. It makes my work environment a lot less safe and a lot less safe for my fellow teachers and staff who are also immune-comprised like myself,” Bowmer told 10 On Your Side.
“We’re hopeful that the Virginia Supreme Court will offer some emergency relief and hopefully stop this policy from being implemented,” Castillo stated.
Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares on Thursday filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit brought by the Chesapeake parents.
In December, the Chesapeake School Board voted 5-3 to remove the district’s requirements for masks, COVID-19 vaccinations and testing for students starting in 2022. The changes were expected to go into effect on January 3.
Officials then reversed that decision on December 30. In the 5-1 vote, the board voted to once again require masks to be in alignment with the state health commissioner’s public health order.
The special meeting called on New Year’s Eve to review recent COVID-19 data quickly became heated, with Vice-Chair Colleen Leary ordering school district administration to temporarily clear the room following outbursts from parents yelling “shame” and calling board members “child abusers.”
Out of the seven cities, the Chesapeake School Board has flirted with defying state mandates several times.
The following message was sent to families on Friday, January 21:
I have important information to share with you as a result of the action taken by the School Board at the Special Meeting on Thursday, January 20, 2022.
Masking Guidance. In accordance with Governor Youngkin’s Executive Order Number Two that becomes effective Monday, January 24, 2022, parents and guardians of Chesapeake Public Schools (CPS) students may choose if their child wears a mask in school. No documentation is required. Masks are still required on school buses, as per federal requirements. Masks will also be required in certain circumstances for students returning to school after isolation or quarantine protocols and when visiting the clinic.
We encourage you to discuss these changes with your children to determine the best course of action for your circumstances and clarify parental expectations for masking. Students will be encouraged to respect the choice of others to wear or not wear a mask. It is important to note that we will not be able to accommodate requests for class changes or special seating assignments due to mask preference.
At this time, there is still a mask requirement (regardless of vaccination status) in place for school employees and all visitors.
I know that many members of our community will welcome these changes, and many others will have concerns. We will review any additional guidance we receive and provide updates as needed.
I ask that you continue to work with us to educate students about these changes. Our teachers, administrators, and staff are working tirelessly to serve our students during this time and your support is greatly appreciated.
Jared Cotton, Ed.D. | Superintendent