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Many mask guidelines for Hampton Roads' schools still under review after new CDC guidance

Health experts at the Centers For Disease Control said masks should be worn inside schools now, regardless of vaccination status, to protect against COVID-19.

CHESAPEAKE, Va. — As COVID-19 cases surge across the country, health experts have new advice when it comes to face mask requirements in schools.  

It’s a hot topic for parents who want to know, what to expect this upcoming school year. 

This comes after the Centers for Disease Control changed course on mask guidelines. Health experts now say schools should require face coverings indoors, regardless of vaccination status.  

Just last week, the CDC said vaccinated people can go without a mask. 

Parents are divided on the issue. Chesapeake mom Sam Lester supports mask requirements, while parent Kim Scott does not.

“Now is not the time to be removing mitigation measures that we know work," Lester said. “If they leave masks optional, we know what that really means. It means hardly anyone’s going to be wearing masks if given the choice.” 

So where do school districts stand on the issue?

Chesapeake Public School leaders already decided: masks are optional.

“It should have been up to the individual, in my opinion, from the beginning," Scott said. “We’re not co-parenting with the CDC, I have no intention of co-parenting with the CDC. I’m fully capable, as are many other parents, of taking the information, reading it ourselves, weighing the risks versus the benefit, and making the best decision for our family.”  

Chesapeake Public Schools said in a statement, masks are recommended but not required. Parents can complete a "mask opt-out form" if they don't want their children to wear a mask.

“The past year, we were forced to have our child comply with things we didn’t agree with but we did it anyway," Scott said. “Many parents feel, and I agree with them, that it is their right and their responsibility to make personal health decisions for their children - and that includes masks and vaccines.” 

School leaders in Hampton and Suffolk all say they’re reviewing the information and finalizing policies for the next school year.

Suffolk Public Schools' school board will discuss the issue on August 12. 

Virginia Beach City Public Schools is also reviewing information and plans to "bring a plan forward" by August 10 to share with the school board. Right now, vaccinated students and staff don’t need a mask.  

“We know that masks are safe, we know that masks work, we also know masking is not a forever thing," Lester said. “A lot of people want to say that this is about freedom; freedom to wear a mask or not wear a mask. But freedom does not give you the freedom to endanger other people’s lives. And if you are unmasked and unvaccinated, the way this virus works, you are endangering others.”

School leaders in Portsmouth will discuss mask guidance at its annual retreat on August 7. Currently, summer school students and staff are required to wear masks.  

Newport News Public School leaders are also reviewing recommendations from health experts are finalizing policies. Summer school students and staff are wearing masks, currently. 

Norfolk school leaders say they continue to follow CDC guidelines relating to indoor mask-wearing and have not yet discussed future policies, further.