Southwest Virginia school districts adjust to Gov. Northam’s latest guidance on masks in school

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(WJHL) – School district leaders across Virginia were caught by surprise on Thursday following Gov. Ralph Northam’s announcement that masks will need to be required in schools.

“The CDC guidance is that people in schools need to be wearing masks. That law was passed by a strong bipartisan vote of the legislature, and I expect school divisions to follow it. If they choose not follow it, they should have a frank discussion with their legal council,” said Northam.

This announcement stems from Senate Bill 1303, and while the decision to require masks in a time where COVID cases are spiking does not necessarily come as a shock, district leaders across Southwest Virginia told News Channel 11 they usually have a heads up in this sort of situation but this time, they did not.

Wise County Schools Superintendent Greg Mullins also said he believed decisions like this would remain up to the locality just like it was last academic year.

“This bill that was referenced in the press conference yesterday has taken some of that autonomy away from localities,” said Mullins.

Mullins isn’t the only one surprised by this move. Norton City Schools Superintendent Gina Wohlford said they’d been closely monitoring data and while a spike was being seen in the locality, there still haven’t been any cases in her school system.

Both Mullins and Wohlford agree that the safety of the students and school staff is a priority so they quickly followed suit and adjusted their mask policies district-wide.

“I did call my legal counsel to get some advice on how to move forward with that and so as of today, starting Monday, we will be moving forward with universal masking in our schools, indoors for all of our students, staff, faculty and anyone that will be visiting,” said Wohlford.

Norton City Schools alongside Wise County Schools, Washington County Virginia schools and Lee County schools will all be implementing their mask requirements come Monday, August 9th.

Mullins said while the conversation surrounding masks is a mixed bag, he believes they will help keep students safe and is proud of the students in his district for being able to adjust so much over the past year.

“We want to do what we feel helps our children remain as safe as possible. I don’t know of very many people who enjoy wearing masks, regardless of age, but I was very proud of our children last year for making that adjustment,” said Mullins.

The goal for Wise County Schools, like many other districts in the region, was to start the year off as normal as possible. While masks for everyone regardless of vaccination status is not the normal district leaders were hoping for, they do believe close following of CDC guidelines will end mandatory masks sooner rather than later.

“We do try to maintain 3-foot social distancing and if we can do that and wear a mask and get through this high-rate of transmission time, hopefully we can get back to strongly recommending masks and that’s my goal,” said Wohlford.

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