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Spotsylvania County Public Schools removes 'religious exemption' in mask policy for upcoming school year

The school board voted 4-3 to approve mask-wearing for the 2021-2022 school year.

SPOTSYLVANIA, Va. — Just two days before the start of the upcoming school year, the Spotsylvania County School Board voted to approve a mask mandate for students and staff, during a school board meeting Monday night.

TOP STORY: Find out what your school district is doing about masks this upcoming semester

The vote was 4-3 with some public comments against the decision and other parents expressing medical concerns as students are expected to return to the classroom in person on Aug. 12.

Those who choose to be exempt from the mask mandate due to religious reasons are still subject to abide by the new policy, following a school board vote Wednesday night.

"The best way to mitigate spread and keep these kids in school is to just use a mask," parent Angela Freeman said in the meeting prior to the vote. "The opt option will create separate social groups, increase peer pressure and increase opportunity for bullying."

"Instead of slowing the spread, we have slowed the development of our children," parent Daniel Lathum said against the universal mask mandate.

Spotsylvania County Board Chancellor Dawn Shelley shared a passionate message about the importance of masking before her colleagues proceeded with the approval vote.

"This might not be 100% and nobody's ever said it's 100%," Shelley said while touching her mask. "Seatbelts are not 100%, nothing is 100% but it's something to help promote the general welfare."

RELATED: What schools can learn from teachers and staff who have returned to in-person learning early

The decision reverses the original plan made by the board two weeks ago to give parents the option of whether they would like their children to wear masks in schools. Board member Erin Grampp made the initial motion but decided to vote for universal masking on Monday night.

She said the new vote would follow a bipartisan law passed in March that required schools to provide in-person learning while following CDC guidelines, which include indoor masking regardless of vaccination status. 

"It clearly defies the law," Grampp said. "We could lose millions from an already bare-bones budget."

In a briefing last week, Gov. Ralph Northam hinted there could be legal action if schools systems do not follow the law.

"I expect school divisions to follow it," he said. "If they choose not to follow it, they should have a frank discussion with their legal counsel."

Several other Virginia school districts have also issued mask-wearing for students and staff in school. Here's an updated list as of Tuesday, Aug. 10:

Virginia

Arlington Public Schools (APS)

Although classroom capacities will return to pre-pandemic levels, APS will continue to mandate that all staff, students and visitors wear masks while inside buildings and school busses, as stated on the district's website. However, students with recess will no longer be required to wear face coverings while outdoors.

Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS)

As of August 3, ACPS will still require all staff, students and visitors to wear face coverings while inside buildings or on school busses, regardless of vaccination status. 

Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS)

FCPS announced their decision on July 28, one day after the CDC recommended masks be worn indoors at all schools

"To ensure our schools stay open and safe this school year, FCPS will start the school year with universal masking. Masks will be worn at all times by both staff and students indoors and on school buses, but are not required when eating or when outside during recess, PE, or other activities. Universal masking is a critical factor in ensuring all students can return to our buildings, especially when social distancing is not possible and not all our students are eligible yet for vaccinations. We will be regularly reviewing our masking practices in line with updates to national, state and local health recommendations."

Prince William County Public Schools (PWCPS)

Prince William County Public Schools announced on August 2 that all students, teachers, staff and visitors will be required to wear masks indoors regardless of vaccination status. 

Loudoun County Public Schools (LCPS)

LCPS will require all students and staff to wear masks regardless of vaccination status, Superintendent Scott A. Ziegler announced Aug. 2 in a letter sent out to the school community.

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