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Chesapeake School Board votes down mask rules, dependent on governor's mandate

In a largely symbolic gesture, the school board decided if Northam lifts his mandate, they will do the same.

CHESAPEAKE, Va. — "Only if the Governor's Executive Order and mandate for mask and social distancing expires on June 30th, 2021. If that doesn't expire or there's another executive order in place, we have to follow that."

That's Chesapeake school board member Christie New Craig at Monday's school board meeting, proposing a resolution to end the mask mandate in the city's schools. 

Essentially, the provision only happens if Gov. Northam's executive order requiring masks in schools expires -- statewide.

The motion carried eight "yes" votes. 

Only one board member did not vote, Dr. Patricia King. 

In a statement to 13News Now, Northam's office said right now, the governor doesn't plan to remove that requirement. 

His executive order follows CDC guidelines. 

Here's how his office put it:

"As the number of Virginians who are vaccinated continues to increase, the Governor amended Executive Order 72 to align with CDC guidance on masking for vaccinated people. Because vaccines are not yet available to children under 12 and only recently available to children 12-15, the Governor kept the mask mandate in place on school property in Executive Order 79. 

As of now, the Governor does not plan to remove the requirement for students to wear masks within school buildings this spring, a position which aligns with current CDC guidance encouraging schools to maintain all health mitigation strategies through the end of the 2020-2021 academic year. We expect the CDC to issue updated guidance in the next few weeks." 

Samantha Lester has two children in Chesapeake City Public Schools, and leads the Chesapeake Advocates for a Responsible Return to School. 

She said the vote confused her, considering the governor's current stance. 

"I'm not sure why they felt like they wanted to take this vote," Lester said. "It really is just symbolic and kind of like a show, so it really felt like a stunt to me."

Lester said she doesn't look to the school board to make these decisions. 

"If the guidance from our lifelong, committed public health experts and medical doctors changes, I trust those experts. I do not trust our school board," Lester said.

Her own kids finished out the school year in virtual learning. 

That school board will have to wait on the same experts as Lester, as Northam said he expects an update from the CDC in a few weeks. 

Depending on that update, Virginia could see a change in school face mask requirements.

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