NORTHERN NECK, Va. — The rural counties of the Northern Neck peninsula are not immune to the debate over whether or not schools should abide by Governor Glenn Youngkin's executive order to allow parental choice for mask-wearing in schools.
Executive Order 2 took effect at midnight Monday. Now, schools across the Commonwealth are divided, and the Youngkin administration's stance is being challenged in Virginia’s highest court.
In Westmoreland County, which has the second largest population of students in the Northern Neck, the school board voted on Jan. 5 to keep a mask mandate in place.
"Our School Board believes it is imperative that we keep our children safe, and masks serve as an essential mitigation strategy," said Westmoreland County Public Schools Division Superintendent Michael Perry in a letter to families.
Their neighboring district, King George County, made the decision to implement Youngkin's executive order, allowing parents and guardians to chose if their child wears a mask to school.
On Jan. 21, Richmond County also voted for optional masking in schools. "Masks are still a means of slowing down the spread of COVID, so please consider having your child wear one when appropriate, as the omicron variant is still spreading in our area," said the announcement.
Both Northumberland County and Lancaster County have not decided on what to do about masks just yet.
The Lancaster County School Board sent a letter to families on Jan. 21 stating they were going to keep universal masking in place until they got new guidance from the Virginia Department of Education — which the executive order mentioned would be provided.
Meanwhile, the Northumberland County School Board plans to meet on Thursday to further discuss their mask mandate plans. They currently have a survey for families to take on their website to provide them with community insight.
Across the river, Essex County School Board members voted to make masking optional, but families have to fill out a form for their child to be able to go to school without one.