VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — Virginia Beach school officials have decided to retain their universal mask requirement, but will also give families the option to “opt out” of the requirement.
The school board voted 9-2 Thursday night to adjust the mask policy.
The decision is an attempt to balance both Gov. Youngkin’s executive order making masks optional in schools, and a state law requiring schools to follow CDC guidance — which currently says all people in schools should wear masks regardless of vaccination status.
In order to opt out, parents will have to provide information to the school district. Superintendent, Dr. Aaron Spence told WAVY that will likely be done electronically. Instruction for that will come later this weekend.
Youngkin’s order makes masks optional starting Monday, Jan. 24. According to a presentation from Virginia Beach administrators, the opt-out option means some students will be in school without masks as of that date.
The order says “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.
Still, a federal CDC order requires all people on school buses to wear face coverings. Parents who don’t want their children to wear masks on the bus will need to arrange alternate transportation.
Staff will be required to wear face coverings inside school buildings. De. Spence said that is a requirement of the Department of Labor and Industry.
Visitors and spectators (including students) at athletic events and after-school programming must also be masked.
“Those are extracurricular, they’re not in school and we are going to continue to enforce our mask mandate,” Spence explained.
When asked, Spence did express concern that some teachers could walk off the job.
“Obviously we are concerned. We can’t afford to lose any more staff, but I can’t predict — and I don’t want to predict — what might happen,” he said.
The school district will buy new KN95 masks for teachers to better protect against the highly contagious omicron variant and continue to monitor cases.
“If we feel like there’s a problem and we feel like this is creating outbreaks we can’t control, then we’ll have to make a decision based on the school impact. And if that means closing a classroom or closing a school, that’s what we’ll do to keep people safe,” Spence said.
Administrators also recommended student quarantine return to a 10-day period, and high school students once again quarantine after close contact with a positive COVID-19 case.
The recommendation included a suggestion to survey families to see if there’s interest in creating a virtual learning option, although that may not be possible unless the state gifts “significant support.”
Some school divisions, such as Poquoson and Chesapeake schools, decided to make masks optional starting Jan. 24. Others, including Norfolk, Accomack, Isle of Wight, Northampton County, Portsmouth and others, will continue requiring masks.