VIRGINIA, USA — After a Virginia statewide mandate ended July 25, school divisions and school boards were left with the decision of whether to require masks for the upcoming school year.
North Carolina school districts were in the same boat.
As we near the "back to school" season, school leaders are getting together and formulating plans. At least, they were.
Then, some school boards reconvened or altered their plans after Governor Ralph Northam announced that all Virginia schools must follow CDC guidance on masks.
Northam said this requirement comes from a bill that was passed in March.
According to Virginia's legislative information system, "the bill requires each school board to provide such in-person instruction in a manner in which it adheres, to the maximum extent practicable, to any currently applicable mitigation strategies for early childhood care and education programs and elementary and secondary schools to reduce the transmission of COVID-19 that have been provided by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention."
Under current CDC guidelines, masks are required indoors in areas of high transmissibility. At this time, all seven cities are under that category, meaning those schools must require masks.
For some schools, that wasn't enough to require masks. Now, Northam has gone a step further and signed an executive order requiring masks for all K-12 public and private schools across the state.
On August 12, the State Health Commissioner issued a new Public Health Order that reinforced Northam's order, that anyone 2 years of age older must wear a mask while indoors at Virginia's K-12 public and private schools, regardless of vaccination status.
Here's what schools decided prior to Northam's announcement:
Chesapeake Public Schools
Update 8/12/21: Chesapeake's superintendent now says Chesapeake Public Schools will adhere to Governor Northam's new Public Health Order that requires people 2 years and older to wear masks indoors in public and private K-12 schools regardless of vaccination status.
Days earlier, the school board voted to keep mask face-coverings optional for its students and staff. Superintendent Jared Cotton said that would no longer be the case:
"In accordance with today’s governmental mandate, Chesapeake Public Schools will require students, staff, and visitors to wear a mask when indoors at all schools, effective immediately. Alternatives and reasonable accommodations will be considered for anyone who is unable to wear a mask due to a medical condition, disability, or for religious reasons. More information will be provided about this process at a later date," Cotton said in a statement.
Dare County Schools
The school board is scheduled to meet Wednesday, Sept. 1, at First Flight High School to discuss the updated COVID-19 data since the start of the new school year.
During a special session on Aug. 5, the school board voted to make masks an option for students in all Dare County schools.
This comes after the superintendent said he wanted a mask requirement come fall.
Currituck County Schools
The Currituck County Board of Education announced that starting Monday, Aug. 30, masks will be required for all staff and students indoors. They will also be required to wear masks on school buses.
The school board said it will not require face coverings to be worn outdoors throughout the school day, with consideration that social distancing guidance will be in place.
This comes after the recent rise in the number of staff and students who have been required to quarantine due to positive cases and contact tracing. They must quarantine for at least five days, according to the local school guidelines.
Gloucester County Public Schools
Update 8/12/21: Gloucester County Public Schools' superintendent presented a recommendation to have a mandatory mask policy in place and a school board meeting was planned on August 19. But following Governor Northam's mask mandate on August 12, the school board canceled the meeting.
Hampton City Schools
Hampton City Schools students and staff will be required to wear masks, both in buildings and on buses regardless of vaccination status.
The school board plans to reevaluate this decision no later than the first quarter.
Isle of Wight County Schools
The Isle of Wight County School Board is expected to make a decision during its meeting on Aug. 12.
Norfolk Public Schools
Norfolk Public Schools has not given official word on its mask requirements, but in a newsletter in June, the school division said it plans to follow the latest CDC and VDH recommendations.
If that is the case, because Norfolk is a high-transmissibility area, the CDC recommends wearing masks indoors.
Their next meeting is on Aug. 18.
Newport News Public Schools
Newport News Public Schools said it will require all students and staff to wear masks while inside the building.
Portsmouth Public Schools
The Portsmouth School Board talked about the school division's reopening plan, as well as masks, at a retreat on Aug. 7. The school division said students and staff will be required to wear masks.
Suffolk Public Schools
The school board in Suffolk is expected to make a decision on Aug. 12. The administration is expected to give a presentation on the options.
The Virginia Beach School Board met on August 11 to discuss masks in schools. After 67 people spoke, both online and in-person, the board decided on requiring masks for all students.
The meeting lasted eight hours, and ended with a 7-4 vote for a mask mandate.
Williamsburg-James City County Public Schools
Williamsburg-James City County Public Schools students and staff will be required to wear masks indoors and on the bus this fall, regardless of vaccination status.
York County School Division
Update 8/12/21: The York County School Division will follow Governor Northam's mask requirement. The school board had previously voted 3-2 to recommend masks and make them optional at all grade levels.
In a statement Thursday, Superintendent Victor Shandor said the following:
The York County School Division is aware of the Virginia Health Commissioner’s order issued today, August 12, 2021 regarding mask requirements in schools. After consulting with the division’s legal counsel, we have been advised that the Commissioner’s order supersedes any local action. All School Board members have also been advised and have individually indicated they understand and support the division’s plan to comply with the state order. As such, the division will adhere to the commissioner’s order effective today.
The School Board’s next scheduled meeting will take place at 7 p.m., Monday, August 23, at York Hall (301 Main Street) at which time the Board will officially take action regarding the state mandate. If you have questions, please contact the division at email@example.com.