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Mask or no mask? Many School Board leaders in Hampton Roads are taking votes

Chesapeake voted Thursday to make mask-wearing optional, while Portsmouth and Norfolk voted to keep the mask mandate in place.

NORFOLK, Va. — The battle over masks in Virginia is coming down to school board votes.

Governor Glenn Youngkin’s executive order makes masks optional in K through 12 schools starting Monday. But not all school divisions agree with the move, and some have yet to make a decision.

The latest decision is Portsmouth, where the school board decided to keep the existing mandate in place.

"In alignment with the recommendations from the health department, the School Board voted to affirm Virginia Senate Bill 1303, which requires school divisions to adhere to the mitigation strategies provided by the Centers for Disease and Prevention (CDC). Currently, the CDC recommends masking for all students, staff, and visitors in schools, regardless of their vaccination status," Portsmouth Public Schools said in a statement. "As such, there will be no change to the division’s masking procedures. All students, staff, and visitors must remain masked while on school property."

Chesapeake's school board, on the other hand, voted Thursday to follow the governor's executive order and make masks optional, beginning Monday.

RELATED: Chesapeake parents sue Gov. Youngkin over lifting school mask mandate

Like Portsmouth, the Norfolk School Board voted to keep the division’s mask policy in place on Wednesday.

“Whether it be on the bus or in the classroom, we hold safety as a top priority,” said Norfolk School board Chair Dr. Adale Martin.

The move defies Governor Glenn Youngkin’s order to make masks optional.

Norfolk school board chair Adale Martin said the division is continuing to follow recommendations from the CDC, Virginia Department of Health, and Norfolk Health Department.

“This is not a political decision; it is about following the science,” Dr. Martin said.

Before Chesapeake's vote to lift the mask mandate on Thursday, School Board Chair Harry Murphy told 13News Now that they would consult their legal counsel.

“We will go into closed session, consult with our attorney and then come back out and take any votes needed in public,” Murphy said.

The same goes for the Virginia Beach School Board, which is also meeting Thursday night to decide if they would follow the executive order.

“This is a special meeting that was called for this purpose, to provide the administration the opportunity to bring forward recommendations to the school board for discussion to determine how to move forward,” said Virginia Beach School Board Chair Carolyn Rye.

Murphy said his fellow board members won’t make this decision lightly.

“I trust my board to make the right decision and I know they have all done their homework and they have looked at all sides,” Murphy said. “That is why there are eight individuals and not just one person making the decision.”

A spokeswoman for Governor Glenn Youngkin said his team will consider the tools available to make sure that parents’ rights are protected.

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