HANOVER COUNTY, Va. -- Parents and teachers reacted following Governor Ralph Northam's Thursday announcement that masking would be required in all Virginia public and private K-12 schools.
The mandate came just two days after a contentious Hanover School Board meeting that ultimately ended in the decision not to require masks in K-12 schools. Reversing the course of their original decision, Hanover County Schools said Thursday they would comply with the governor's mandate and require masks.
Kimberly Thurston and Jody McMaster are both involved in a group called the Hanover Patriots. They both spoke at the meeting on Tuesday evening urging school board members to make masking a choice.
"A little disappointed in the governor backtracking on his statement that he was going to allow the localities to choose for their constituents because the localities know what's best for their area," said Thurston. "It’s not so much about that we don't want them to wear them at all, we want the students and their family to have the choice."
Both Thurston and McMaster said they believed the choice to wear a mask or not was part of the freedoms given to Americans and stressed that not everyone's experience was the same.
"You never know with any developmental delays, children with speech therapy, hearing, you know, that all affects our children, especially at the younger age," said McMaster.
Gillian Haynes also took the stand Tuesday and spoke with CBS 6 following the governor's announcement. The Hanover mother said she decided to take her child out of Hanover Public Schools and homeschool her the week prior, saying she didn't want children to be pawns in a political chess game.
"We're suffocating them," said Haynes. "You put a mask on a seven-year-old, they're gonna adjust it. They're going to touch it, they're going to manipulate it, they're going to move it."
However, Hanover NAACP President, Patricia Hunter-Jordan said she was thankful that the governor and health department stepped in.
"We don't regret or deny anyone else their rights, but when your rights infringe upon mine to be safe, that is where we disagree," said Hunter-Jordan. "We cannot put the health and safety of our children at risk."
A nonprofit group called Together Hanover made up of private Hanover parents and educators, echoed that sentiment. In a statement to CBS 6 they said:
"Our members were extremely disappointed and concerned with the vote on Tuesday night and have been actively communicating with the School Board, School Administrators, and State lawmakers, to ensure that the School Board's irresponsible 4-3 vote to allow "parent choice" in masking did not stand. The safety of all members of our community is a priority for our group, including people who don't agree with universal masking. This is non-political for us, as it should be for the School Board, whose responsibility it is to protect our students and staff. Community health relies on the participation of all to follow recommended safety precautions as they are updated, and we are happy to do our part to slow the spread of Covid-19 and the highly contagious Delta variant. Universal school masking during this most recent surge will help to protect all of Hanover County."
Hanover wasn’t the only locality to initially make masking a choice.
Prince George Schools initially recommended masking in early August but said Thursday they would require masks following the governor's mandate.
CBS 6 ran into a group of Prince George school teachers following that announcement.
"We would prefer not to wear masks, but I think with children getting sick being a little bit more prevalent. I think it’s time for us to mask up," said Carol Moore.