RICHMOND, Va. – Members of the Richmond School Board voted 5-3 during an emergency meeting Sunday to take legal action against Gov. Glenn Youngkin in an attempt to uphold the district’s mask mandate.
School districts across the state have offered a range of responses to the new GOP governor’s executive order, which allows parents to opt their chil out of school mask mandates. Some school systems plan to comply, but many others in some of the state's most populous areas have stated their mandates would remain in place when the order goes into effect Monday.
Most of Sunday's emergency meeting by the Richmond School Board happened behind closed doors with legal counsel. School officials released limited information.
In a statement, school board member Kenya Gibson said “the governor of Virginia is not a dictator. He is bound by law.”
However, Gibson voted against filing the lawsuit saying the division’s legal authority is already assumed. That is a reference to a state law that says Virginia schools shall adhere to mitigation strategies provided by the CDC, which recommends mask wearing for children aged 2 and up in schools.
Richmond School Board member Jonathan Young called the closed session “really tragic.”
“The school board in the City of Richmond essentially adopted a gag order as it relates to public business,”Richmond school board member Jonathan Young said. “Frankly, RPS is better than this.”
Additionally, a major portion of Sunday's meeting was spent debating whether officials should be allowed to publicly discuss the legal matter publicly.
Richmond Public Schools Superintendent Jason Kamras stayed silent.
“I have no intention whatsoever of speaking at all about this matter,” Kamras said.
Teachers plan sick-out Monday
The meeting came one day before dozens of Richmond teachers planned to call out sick to send a message.
“We’ve just really been ignored,” instructor Andrea Bryant said. “Teachers are burnt out. Our students are burnt out.”
Educators like Bryant are speaking out on rising COVID cases in the school community and staffing shortages.
“When it gets to a point where you're having to send central office staff to cover classes, maybe we shouldn't be in school for a little while,” Bryant said.
Their list of demands include: clear metrics for when schools should close due to COVID, more KN95 masks, half days on Wednesdays and giving parents a virtual option.
“I know a lot of colleagues who this could be their last year, and they may not even make it to the end of the year,” Bryant said.
Superintendent Kamras did not want to comment on-camera Sunday, but a spokesperson said the district is doing everything they can to protect staff.
Youngkin vows to 'continue to protect parents' fundamental right'
Youngkin has asked the Supreme Court of Virginia to dismiss another lawsuit challenging his executive order on masks.
In that case, which was filed by a group of parents with children in Chesapeake Public Schools, Attorney General Jason Miyares argued Youngkin’s order fell within the broad authority given to the governor to address the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a statement, Youngkin previously said he was confident the Virginia Supreme Court would rule “in the favor of parents.”
“In the meantime, I urge all parents to listen to their principal, and trust the legal process,” he said.
A Youngkin spokesperson said Sunday the administration would “continue to protect parents' fundamental right to make decisions with regard to their child’s upbringing, education and care."
Virginians age 5+ are eligible for COVID-19 vaccine. Go to Vaccine Finder to search for specific vaccines available near you or call 877-VAX-IN-VA (877-275-8343).
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People are considered fully vaccinated:
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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.