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Masks in schools: 'Total confusion' for parents in Virginia, analyst predicts

'Is there any ambiguity in the statute? I don't see any ambiguity,' law professor says
Peyton Miller, Noah Rucker
Posted at 8:29 PM, Aug 08, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-08 20:35:23-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- School leaders are once again tasked with whether to make students wear masks in class. Gov. Ralph Northam has not issued a mandate, but he made it clear that schools definitely should require them.

Stephanie Thomas enjoyed a beautiful Sunday afternoon at Richmond’s Byrd Park as her family soaked up the last full month of summer before the little ones go back to school.

Out at the park, Thomas allows her kids to take off their masks. However, when it’s time for them to hit the halls again in Henrico, that will be a different story.

“I want them to wear masks in school,” Thomas said. “I just feel it lowers their chance of getting the virus. With these new strands coming out, it's the best defense they have because they can't get vaccinated.”

Stephanie Thomas
Stephanie Thomas

Thomas only falls on one side of the heated mask debate. Many parents don’t believe kids should be forced to wear masks.

On the CBS 6 Facebook page, Leah Patton said, “Masks should be optional.” Toy Walker commented, “No Masks. Can’t Breathe. Make it optional.”

Dr. Bob Holsworth, a political analyst for WTVR CBS 6, said he sees some problems arising among parents and school divisions after Northam announced he was not ordering a statewide mask mandate for schools.

“I think what we're getting ready for is almost total confusion locality by locality,” Holsworth said.

RELATED: 'I expect our school districts to follow the law,' Northam says about masks in schools

Dr. Bob Holsworth
Dr. Bob Holsworth

Instead, Northam pointed to a new state law (Senate Bill 1303) that says schools must follow CDC guidance to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Currently, that guidance shows students and staff should mask up.

“I think the governor has been a little reluctant, at least on this go around, to have what a lot of people might consider to be a heavy hand on this,” Dr. Holsworth explained. “So essentially, I think what he was trying to say is, ‘Well, you know, this is not me.’”

The bill that Northam referenced is getting mixed interpretations since Holsworth said masks has become a “very political” issue.

In fact, Republican State Senator Siobhan, who sponsored the bill, still believes school divisions should be allowed to make their own policies on masks.

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But legal experts disagree with that interpretation.

“I tend to agree with the governor that no additional mandate is required,” Margaret Foster Riley, a professor of law at the University of Virginia School of Law, said. “If you actually look at the plain words of the statute, is there any ambiguity in the statute? I don't see any ambiguity.”

Northam said Thursday that if schools don’t follow the law, they should talk with their legal counsel.

Riley said it is possible that each school district could get different interpretations because “lawyers disagree all the time.”

However, she believes the language is clear.

“Should it go to court, I think the school would lose,” she said.

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Mass COVID-19 vaccination clinic at Richmond Raceway.

Virginians age 12+ are eligible for COVID-19 vaccine. Pre-registration is no longer required, so go to Vaccine Finder to search for specific vaccines available near you or call 877-VAX-IN-VA (877-275-8343).

Depend on CBS 6 News and WTVR.com for the most complete coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Have You Been Fully Vaccinated?

People are considered fully vaccinated:

  • 2 weeks after their second dose in a 2-dose series, such as the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, or
  • 2 weeks after a single-dose vaccine, such as Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen vaccine
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What you can and should not do once you have been fully vaccinated.

How to Protect Yourself and Others When You’ve Been Fully Vaccinated

COVID-19 vaccines are effective at protecting you from getting sick. Based on what we know about COVID-19 vaccines, people who have been fully vaccinated can start to do some things that they had stopped doing because of the pandemic.

We’re still learning how vaccines will affect the spread of COVID-19. After you’ve been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, you should keep taking precautions—like wearing a mask, staying 6 feet apart from others, and avoiding crowds and poorly ventilated spaces—in public places until we know more.

These recommendations can help you make decisions about daily activities after you are fully vaccinated. They are not intended for healthcare settings.

Click here for more information from the Virginia Department of Health.