It’s not clear if Virginia will enforce school mask rules, allow parents to opt students out

Virginia

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) –One week since the CDC updated its mask guidelines for K-12 schools, it’s still not entirely clear how Virginia will respond. 

Gov. Ralph Northam said the state’s current universal mask mandate in schools will remain in place through July 25.

Northam said fully vaccinated students and staff will soon be able to take their masks off in school, a response to the CDC’s recommendations. 

“We obviously want to follow the CDC guidelines, as well as work with our Department of Health and Department of Education to give guidance to the schools,” Northam said. 

However, it’s not clear if schools will be asked to track vaccine information and how it might be enforced, something that has caused confusion in other states.

Northam’s office said more complete guidance will likely be coming out next week.

Some states have already committed to keeping school mask mandates in place for everyone. Others are banning localities from imposing requirements altogether. 

We asked Northam if students under 12, who are not yet eligible for the vaccine, should still have to wear a face covering.

“Absolutely. Children less than 12 years old are still very vulnerable,” Northam said. 

Meanwhile, at least one Virginia school district is bucking Northam’s advice.

In a statement online, Fauquier County Public Schools said masks will be optional in all buildings, buses or grounds. 

 “The school division encourages each family to examine their individual situation, weigh their personal risks against benefits, and make a decision about mask-wearing that best suits their needs,” said School Board members Donna Grove (chair, Cedar Run District) and Stephanie Litter-Reber (Lee District).

The statement said the new guidance took effect July 1 to align with the expiration of Northam’s State of Emergency. 

8News is still waiting for VDH and Northam’s office to comment on that announcement. 

In an interview on Thursday, Northam wouldn’t say if parents would be able to opt their kids out of the state’s new mask guidance.

That’s what Chesterfield mother of two Tayrn Brennan would do. 

“It’s my body, my choice,” Brennan said. “As a parent, I should choose whether my child wears a medical device or not. It’s not the state’s or the governor’s or the government’s choice to do that.”  

As of Friday, 39 percent of those less than 18 had been fully vaccinated and about 48 percent had gotten at least one dose, according to VDH data.  

Brennan said one of her kids is currently eligible for the vaccine but she is holding off. She is concerned about how mask rules could impact students like him. 

“It’s going to put kids into groups of ‘clean and unclean’ and there is going to be stigma,” Brennan said. 

Since the beginning of the pandemic, across Virginia, those 19 and under have accounted for 109,027 cases of coronavirus, 620 hospitalizations and 6 deaths, according to state data. Two fatalities were in the 0-9 age group. 

VDH declined to do an interview but sent the following statement:

CDC and VDH guidance acknowledges the value of in-person learning, and we share the priority of safely returning students and teachers to school in fall 2021. The guidance emphasizes the importance of layering prevention strategies (e.g. vaccination, masks, testing, distancing, cleaning, etc) to protect people who are not fully vaccinated (including teachers, students, staff and other members of their households).  At quick glance, the CDC guidance focuses on the prevention strategies that are most important for in-person learning, and also provides guidance as to what information to consider when making decisions about prevention strategies, such as vaccination coverage, screening testing, and outbreak trends. This is largely consistent with existing VDH guidance. 

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