HANOVER COUNTY, Va., — A post shared on social media encouraged Hanover County students to remove their masks in class next week.
The Facebook post reads, “All Hanover County Schools take off mask in protest. Tuesday Sept. 15 #maskoff.”
In an email to parents and students, Hanover Schools administrators said the protest appears to be connected to a larger “international movement on social media.”
HCPS warned that students would face consequences if they participated.
“Please understand that wearing a face-covering in our buildings is mandatory and an important part of our overall health plan. Students who willfully disregard this directive will be subject to disciplinary action, including suspension,” the email read. “While we remain hopeful that this will be unnecessary, we want to underscore the need for compliance with our health and safety plans, and the level of accountability to which we will hold our students.”
The school system urged parents to reinforce the message about wearing face masks citing “how even the smallest choices may have a big impact on others, including an entire school.”
Hanover County Public School Board Chairman John Axselle III told CBS 6 in a phone interview that they have stressed to students the importance of thinking of others around them.
“The mask-wearing is thinking of others as well as yourself. It’s for the protection of others. It concerns us as a board that the group, whoever they are, would sponsor something that could be harmful to many,” Axselle said.
HCPS is one of the largest school districts in Central Virginia to offer virtual and in-person classes for the Fall semester.
Tara Childs has a Freshman and Junior at Hanover High School who both attend in-person.
“My daughter said, everybody knew what we signed up for,” Childs said. “Yes, the masks are kind of annoying, but we did agree to do this to wear a mask all day when we chose face to face.”
Childs said her students have reported most of their classmates are wearing masks while in the building.
“I would just tell them to be extra cautious,” she explained. “I instructed her if she heard people talking about it to try to dissuade them from doing that.”
Another Hanover parent, who wanted to remain anonymous, called the protest “upsetting and selfish.”
“If parents didn’t want their students to wear a mask, they had a clear choice to go virtual instead. Those who chose [face to face] were promised that non-mask wearing would not be tolerated on any level,” the parent wrote.
The parent urged administrators to stand behind their warning to discipline students who don’t follow the rules.
Dr. Christopher Leffler, an ophthalmologist with VCU Health and Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU, urged everyone to wear a face covering.
“The main benefit it keeps you from spreading respiratory droplets,” Leffler said. “It keeps you from spreading the virus if you happen to be infected and you don’t know it. It also provides some protection.”
Leffler said his research showed the chances of catching the coronavirus increases without mask-wearing.
“There’s no question there will be more risk of the spread of the coronavirus if people are not wearing a mask, especially indoors, especially in a crowded place,” he explained.
Dr. Leffler studied the coronavirus mortality rates from more than 200 countries around the world compared to how early mask-wearing was introduced.
“The countries who did the best were the ones who recommended masks right away. The longer the country waited the more problems they had with coronavirus mortality ” he stated. “They had a lower mortality compared to the United States.”
Dr. Leffler also recommended schools to open windows during instruction to help prevent the spread of the virus.
Principals and building administrators will be tasked with how to handle students who choose to take their mask off in class, according to Axselle.