VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — Gov. Ralph Northam Thursday afternoon issued a statewide mask mandate for all schools K-12 as the COVID-19 infection rate soars.

The mandate is a direct response to school boards that have refused to issue mandates.

The Virginia Beach board this week approved a mandate after an hours-long contentious meeting. One board member who voted against the Virginia Beach mandate predicts hundreds of families will leave Virginia Beach schools.

“It’s very unfortunate that the governor does not believe that parents should be able to make decisions for their own children. We have a lot of parents who are looking to pull their children out. They are talking about forming home-school co-ops or learning pods. The optics here are [problematic]. Everybody waited until the enrollment for private schools closed,” said boardmember Laura Hughes.

Laura Hughes (WAVY photo/Regina Mobley

Travel advertisements paint the resort city as the tranquil city by the ocean, but Tuesday night, the political waters roiled as debate over mandatory masking up in the schools turned ugly. The public comment period stretched on for hours and the meeting continued past midnight.

When citizen speaker Tara Chang was told her time was up to speak before the board, she stormed off the podium and shouted a two-syllable profane expression that was accompanied by a profane gesture.

Hughes, a board member who voted against the city mask mandate, told 10 On Your Side she was not present when Chang spoke before the public and board members. Hughes told 10 On Your Side Chang’s comments were not socially acceptable and that she will review recordings of the meeting.

Hughes was present the next day when a school board committee moved forward with plans to add the administration building to the list of school facilities and activities where guns are banned. Again, Hughes voted no, after challenging fellow board member Beverly Anderson. Anderson, reflecting on the tense Tuesday board meeting offered this assessment:

Anderson: “We have a building right next door [the former Building 2 at the Municipal Center where 13 people were killed] that shows that firearms can be very detrimental.”
Hughes: “We have one right next door [Building 2] that shows if employees had been able to defend themselves, a lot more might be here.” 

The amendment passed in committee and the full board could vote on the gun ban in four weeks.

Hughes is calling on her supporters to make sure their voices are heard when the full panel considers the committee recommendation to add the administration building to the list of school facilities and activities where guns are banned.

Hughes suggested that some of her colleagues on the school board have a double standard in considering the gun ban.

“When their friends come in and bash me or some of my colleagues who think like I do, they don’t consider them a danger. They only consider it a danger when someone disagrees with them. I can disagree with you all day long and I’m not going to shoot you. Disagreement and anger doesn’t mean you are in any sort of danger,” said Hughes.