Despite new governor’s new order, SPS to continue masking in schools

Published 3:53 pm Monday, January 17, 2022

In the wake of new Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s executive order allowing parents to choose whether their children wear masks to school, Suffolk Public Schools plans to maintain the status quo of requiring masks on school buses and on school property.

A number of other school divisions around the state, since the governor’s announcement, have also issued statements keeping their masking policies in place.

In a letter to families Jan. 17, it said masks are key in reducing the spread of COVID-19 “and increases the division’s ability to offer in-person instruction as mandated by Senate Bill 1303,” which states school divisions must follow the lead of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Federal law still requires masking while on school buses.

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“We are asking for all of our students, staff and parents to consider the safety of not only yourself but for others during this time,” the SPS letter states. “The Suffolk Public Schools Administration and School Board respect the decisions that parents make for their students, however, leadership must make decisions for the safety of 14,000 students and 2,300 employees. We know that this change in the expectation from the state level has caused high levels of anxiety about attending school for your education, as well as for work. We are asking for your patience as we work through this at the local and state level.”

The school division shifted four schools – King’s Fork Middle School, along with Kilby Shores, Mack Benn Jr. and Southwestern elementary schools – to virtual learning this week in the wake of increasing numbers of students and staff who either have COVID-19 or are in quarantine.

School division staff have had conversations with state officials and are expecting updated guidance later this week from the Virginia Department of Education and Virginia Department of Health. It said if necessary, it would release any updates by Jan. 21.

The governor’s order, in highlighting the issue, states that parents, and not government, “have the fundamental right to make decisions concerning the care of their children.”He issued it Jan. 15, the same day he was inaugurated as governor.

“In light of the variety of circumstances confronted by students in the Commonwealth, parents should have the ability to decide whether their child should wear masks for the duration of the school day,” the order states.

Recent government orders requiring Virginia students to wear masks “have proven ineffective and impractical” and “have also failed to keep up with rapidly changing scientific information.”

Youngkin’s Executive Order #2, which takes effect Jan. 24, states that parents can have their children disregard mask mandates at a school or educational program, and no reason is required for doing so.

“A child whose parent has elected that he or she is not subject to a mask mandate should not be required to wear a mask under any policy implemented by a teacher, school, school district, the Department of Education or any other state authority,” the executive order states.

It also calls on school divisions to “marshal any resources available” to improve air quality in schools.

Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s Executive Order #2 can be found here.