VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — Masks are now optional for students in Hampton Roads’ largest school division.
On Thursday night, the Virginia Beach City Public Schools' school board decided parents can submit paperwork for their children to opt out of face masks, but the mask mandate is still in place for everyone else.
Superintendent Dr. Aaron Spence said his division, like many others, “has been put in a unique position.”
On one hand, Virginia law says schools should follow CDC guidelines which include a face mask recommendation. On the other hand, a new executive order from governor Glenn Youngkin lifts the mask mandate.
“A little bit of confusion," Spence said. “I don’t think we can ignore an executive order and I don’t think that we can ignore law. I think we have to try and find the right balance. I feel like we accomplished that last night. I don’t think it’s making anybody happy. At the same time, I don’t think that’s been the case throughout the entire pandemic.”
Masks are now optional in the division. Parents who don’t want their children to wear a mask can submit paperwork to opt out.
It’s a long-standing and divisive issue.
President of the Virginia Beach Education Association, Kathleen Slinde, said if masks are taken out of the schools that would be stressful for people with underlying health conditions.
“Teachers are devoted to students. They’re devoted to the profession. We take very seriously the work that we do, but we also take very seriously the health of ourselves as individuals and the families we go home to and the community that we share activities with," Slinde said.
Virginia Beach parent Becky Hay, however, said she’s happy parents are being given an option.
“The CDC is not an elected governing body," Hay said. "We’re happy nonetheless that parents do have that choice. They do have to submit paperwork which is really unnecessary but I’m sure most are more than happy to do so to ensure their child doesn’t have to wear a mask.”
Hay added: “For those on the other side while I can empathize with their disappointment – because I experienced it quite a bit in 2020-2021, at the same time - The district didn’t make the decision by totally throwing out everything that was said.”
Spence said school boards need answers and more clarity as to what authority the governor’s order has, relative to state law.
“This could be stressful," Spence said. "That’s the situation we find ourselves in. That’s the situation that’s been created for the school division.”
The Virginia Beach school board also voted to extend student quarantine to 10 days and have unvaccinated high schoolers once again quarantined after a close contact exposure.
Masks are required for teachers and visitors.