NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WAVY) — Newport News schools have decided to continue requiring masks for students and staff in city schools, despite an executive order from new Gov. Glenn Youngkin that would give parents the choice to abide by mask mandates or not.

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The system confirmed on Friday that masks will continue to be mandated for all students, staff and visitors. Officials say they “will continue to follow all of the mitigation strategies recommended by the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for schools, including the use of face masks.”

Youngkin’s order says there “is no greater priority than the health and welfare of Virginia’s children” and that “parents, not the government, have the fundamental right to make decisions concerning the care of their children.”

Specifically, the order states “parents of any child enrolled in an elementary or secondary school or a school-based early childcare and educational program may elect for their children not to be subject to any mask mandate in effect at the child’s school or educational program.” It also says parents won’t be required to provide a reason for their choice.

Gov. Ralph Northam’s office previously said that any school board that ends its mask mandate would be in violation of a state law passed last year. That means those divisions could be susceptible to lawsuits.

School officials released the following message on Friday:

Newport News Public Schools will continue to follow all of the mitigation strategies recommended by the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for schools, including the use of face masks.  

The CDC recommends universal indoor masking for all individuals ages 2 years and older, including students, teachers, staff and visitors, regardless of vaccination status. The federal agency notes that when teachers, staff and students consistently and correctly wear a mask, they protect others as well as themselves.  

After legal consultation and careful review of state and federal mask requirements and recommendations, the school division leadership team has decided to prioritize the health and wellbeing of students, staff and visitors by adhering to the precedent established at the beginning of the 2021-2022 school year. Until further guidance is released by the Virginia legislature or the CDC, Newport News Public Schools will require mask use, social distancing, handwashing, cleaning and sanitizing and contact tracing in all schools and offices. 

In addition, NNPS will continue to enforce mask use on school buses. Wearing masks on public transportation including school buses is mandated by order of the CDC under the Public Health Service Act. 

The Newport News School Board has independent authority to establish school division policies that maintain the health and safety of students and school division employees. Further, the School Board has tasked the Superintendent with the day-to-day operation of schools in compliance with school board policy, Senate Bill 1303 and guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

Newport News Public Schools will continue to provide a safe educational environment. Students, staff and visitors are encouraged to adhere to all NNPS health and safety protocols.