VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — School leaders in Virginia Beach spent several hours Tuesday night discussing their mask policy for the upcoming school year before voting to make them mandatory.
Minutes before 1 a.m., after a more than seven-hour meeting, the board voted 7-4 to implement the plan proposed by school administration, which includes mandatory masks for all students and staff.
Masks will be a requirement in all school buildings and on buses. Students and staff will not need to wear a face covering when outdoors.
The mandate goes into effect as soon as Aug. 16 and will stay in effect until COVID-19 metrics locally show decreasing numbers.
Dozens of Virginia Beach parents and students rallied against masks and demanded transparency from the school board ahead of Tuesday’s meeting.
At the meeting, 50 people signed up to address the board on the mask policy in-person. Another 17 spoke virtually. There were speakers in favor of beginning the school year with masks, those who spoke passionately in front of the board against masks and others who suggested the board adopt a resolution on the agenda that would make masks optional.
Natalie Allen with Virginia Beach Schools said board members have also received a lot of email comments from the public.
Last week, Virginia Beach School Board member Laura Hughes told 10 On Your Side she intended to introduce a resolution that would make wearing a mask a personal decision both indoors and outdoors in the absence of any statewide requirement. The resolution ultimately failed to pass.
Some speakers also threatened to take their children out of the school division if masks were made mandatory. Others explained their children have medical conditions or disabilities that prevent them from being able to wear masks.
On Monday, Chesapeake schools also made a decision on masks, sticking with their original plan to make masks optional for the upcoming school year.
The decisions on the local level come the week after Gov. Ralph Northam announced the state would ask all students and staff at K-12 schools to wear masks indoors whether they are vaccinated or not, based on recent CDC guidance. School districts could face apparent legal action if not, per Northam.
Masks are not mandated via an executive order from the governor, but Northam indicated it stemmed from legislation passed this year that requires Virginia schools to have in-person learning five days a week and provide instruction in a manner that “adheres, to the maximum extent practicable, to any currently applicable mitigation strategies … to reduce the transmission of COVID-19 that have been provided by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”
The day after the Virginia Beach School Board’s protracted meeting, 10 On Your Side spoke with concerned citizens on both sides of the pandemic divide.
Eric McLaughlin is opposed to masking of all kinds, saying masks don’t work in preventing the spread of the coronavirus.
Nearby, under a picnic shelter, Ellen Cupp and her friends were holding their weekly luncheon. The retired teacher and her friends have met and prayed at Mt. Trashmore every Wednesday since the start of the pandemic. Clutching rosary beads, the retired educator said it’s critical that politicians follow the science.
“If the science is correct and children are getting it [COVID-19] and there no vaccine and so forth; people have to take a long hard look at this policy,” said Cupp.
10 On Your Side also spoke to Kathleen Slinde, who is the president of the Virginia Beach Education Association who supports the mask mandate.
“We are making progress against the virus. Because few children have been vaccinated we need to remain vigilant in masking up, social distancing, and sanitizing,” said Slinde, whose organization represents active and retired employees of Virginia Beach City Public Schools.
Stay with WAVY.com for updates.