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Cheapeake School Board votes to make masks optional after winter break

The change only applies to students, not employees.

CHESAPEAKE, Va. — After winter break, students in Chesapeake Public Schools only have to wear a mask in class, if they want to.

The school board voted to make masking optional at its Monday meeting. This only applies to students, not employees. They are required under a separate state rule to wear masks.

“We are not going to take away the masking, the testing, it’s going to be optional,” said board member Christie New Craig.

New Craig proposed the idea. The board voted five to three to make it happen.

“If you choose to send your child to school with a mask, I support you,” New Craig said. “But one person should not be able to choose for the next person.”

Several parents spoke for and against masking. Former CPS substitute Amber Bowmer thinks it’s a step in the wrong direction.

“Even though I am vaccinated and boosted, if I get an even mild infection, it could be very severe for my health,” said Bowmer who is also a parent. “So I had to make the difficult decision to resign from a position that I really did enjoy doing.”

The optional mask move violates the Virginia Department of Health Commissioner’s public health order, which requires all K-12 students to mask up unless the CDC changes its guidelines.

“That order is in place until which time it is changed,” said School Board Member Dr. Patricia King. “It has not been changed and we are obligated as elected officials to follow the law.”

Board member Dr. Patricia King said she stands by her vote against the change.

“We do not have the right to follow the laws that we choose and not others, and I think that is appalling that we decided to go against a law,” Dr. King said.

13News Now reached out to the board members who voted to make masks optional, including New Craig, but have not heard back.

The vote also makes it optional for student-athletes to get vaccinated or undergo COVID testing in the new year.

13News Now reached out to a VDH spokesperson for comment about the school's change. 

They said, in part, "VDH officials are concerned that removing a mask requirement in K12 Schools, during a time when a surge in COVID-19 cases is anticipated due to the holidays, will unnecessarily create an environment in which students and staff, and their families at home, will be more vulnerable to COVID-19 transmission in school."

VDH also went on to reiterate that the order from the state health commissioner requiring all individuals two and older to wear masks indoors at public and private K-12 schools is still in place. 

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