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Chesapeake, York County public schools change optional masking policies after state order

Both school divisions say they will fall in line with the Virginia Health Commissioner's order after previously voting to make masks optional.

CHESAPEAKE, Va. — Virginia’s Health Commissioner has now ordered mandatory masking in all K-12 schools, both public and private.

This comes after days of heated school board meetings and passionate pleas from both sides of the mask argument.

"Last time I checked, my parenting agreement did not list the school board as co-parents of my children. Let’s go ahead and put the parenting decisions back where they belong," said one mother in Virginia Beach.

Another parent echoed that sentiment.

"I have a kid who is going to be masked all day and that’s not okay. It’s his body. I’m his parent. I get to choose what goes on him."

A Chesapeake 7th grader told Chesapeake Public Schools she wants everyone in a mask.

"I find it disgusting that you are willing to put kids in danger just so you don’t have to wear a tiny piece of fabric on your face."

"Is it more important to you to pander to your base, keep the weak-minded under your influence, and curry votes than it is to protect students?" asked another woman as the Virginia Beach crowd booed her.

Now that the state has made masks mandatory, two Hampton Roads schools are forced to reverse their decisions.

On Monday, Chesapeake Public School Superintendent Jared Cotton said they were sticking with their original plan. 

"The school board made the decision back in June to make mask-wearing optional in the absence of any mandates."

Now, both Chesapeake and the York County School Division announced they will fall in line with the new order and require masks for students and staff. 

The York County School Division said in a statement “After consulting with the division’s legal counsel, we have been advised that the Commissioner’s order supersedes any local action.”

The Chesapeake Public Schools Superintendent said they know this has caused “disagreements,” but they appreciate your understanding.

The new mask order states you can only take off the mask if you are:

  • Outside
  • Eating drinking or sleeping
  • Exercising
  • Playing a wind instrument in a music class
  • Performing a religious ritual that can't be done in a mask
  • Having trouble breathing or are unconscious
  • Or if wearing a mask puts you at risk because of a disability or health condition

People can request medical or religious exemptions.

This decision comes as children under 12 are still not eligible for the vaccine. However, last week, Governor Ralph Northam said that could be coming soon.

RELATED: 'Sooner than expected' | Virginia health experts say children under 12 could receive vaccine approval by September

"I am hopeful this will be coming this fall just in the next few weeks."

The order will remain in place until CDC guidelines for K-12 schools are updated or until state leaders rescind the order.


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