AMELIA COUNTY, Va. -- Students and teachers in Amelia County return to school Wednesday, and after a heated debate Monday night, the district decided masks will be required. All but one school board member voted in favor of the mask policy, despite every parent and student at the meeting speaking out against masks in schools.
"I believe that masks should not be mandated under any circumstances," said one rising ACPS senior. "It's called freedom, and it's what my ancestors fought for."
The school board said they didn’t like the position they were in, but after talking with legal counsel, they felt it was clear not implementing a mask policy could put the school system at legal risk.
Virginia Governor Ralph Northam gave districts the choice about whether or not to implement a mask policy this school year, but he made it clear they should require them, pointing to new state law, Senate Bill 1303, which said schools must follow CDC guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Right now, CDC guidance says students and teachers need to mask up.
Some parents were frustrated saying the school system is requiring masks but not following all CDC guidelines, such as temperature checks and other mitigation strategies.
"The CDC recommends, not requires, that all students and staff wear masks while indoors and multiple other screenings," said one Amelia County mom. "Yesterday, I got a message saying the high school isn't requiring temperature checks, so we are picking and choosing what part of the CDC recommendations we want to go by."
Amelia School Board Vice-Chair Bonnie Vega noted she's heard from parents who weren't at the meeting who want masks to be required in the school building.
"It's not about what my personal belief is because at the end of the day it doesn't matter what my belief is," said Vega. "It matters whether I'm doing my due diligence for all students of Amelia County Public Schools. You might say where are those other parents? Why aren't they here? I can't answer that question, but I can guarantee you I've gotten emails and telephone calls from the other side just like this, so how do I choose which side I'm going to support?"
That led to the crowd speaking up loudly, and Chair Mike Neller had to hit his gavel.
"We will have order!" Neller exclaimed. "We listened to every word you all said in silence. Please have the courtesy to listen to us."
When Amelia County students return to school Wednesday, masks will be required, and school leaders said they will continue to evaluate CDC guidance.