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School districts review mask policies following new guidance ahead of academic year

Virus Outbreak Schools
Posted at 6:52 PM, Jul 21, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-21 19:16:58-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- Many school districts in the Metro Richmond area said, for the most part, they are beginning to review the new guidance issued Wednesday covering COVID-19 preventative measures for the upcoming school year.

However, on Wednesday evening, Richmond Public Schools announced that they will maintain their 100% mask policy for all students, staff members and visitors.

The guidance will take the place of the current public health order that is set to expire on July 25. The order mandates masks for everyone inside a school, regardless of vaccination status.

The 14-page guidance, jointly issued by the Virginia Department of Health and the Virginia Department of Education, made recommendations on a variety of mitigation measures that should be required but said it will be up to local school divisions on what to implement “based on community-level conditions and public health recommendations."

Among the suggestions are requiring masks for everyone in the elementary school setting, regardless of vaccination status and for unvaccinated people in middle and high school settings.

CBS 6 reached out to the local school systems for comment. The majority said they are reviewing the new guidance, but a spokesperson for Hopewell City Public Schools said a decision has been made as they begin a year-round model starting next week.

"We discussed our approach to the COVID health protocols with our board and we are all in support of applying the American Academy of Pediatrics guidance that all staff and students wear a mask as we open school next Monday. We will continue to review health data and trends, emerging research, and any new guidance and make adjustments in a way that prioritizes having students in school safely," said Assistant Superintendent Dr. Jay McClain in a statement.

On Monday, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended that schools implement a universal mask mandate at all levels, regardless of vaccination status. Earlier this month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that masks be worn by those who are unvaccinated but noted that localities could implement a universal mask mandate if conditions required it.

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam said his administration considered both recommendations when crafting the new guidance.

The Virginia Education Association, which represents teachers and school staff, released a statement saying that they believe that the new guidance doesn't go far enough. The group
is calling for all children over two years old to wear masks in schools to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

"Only a multi-layered approach is going to protect the health and safety of our students, their families and communities and the educators who are serving the children," the association said in part in a statement.

Others are saying that the guidance goes too far. House Republican leader Todd Gilbert said that making children wear masks is cruel.

"It is inconsistent with science, passes the buck to local school divisions, will spark mass confusion and will make it more difficult as our students return to the classroom this fall," Gilbert said in part.

What the other school districts are saying:

Richmond Public Schools

Despite today's announcement from the Virginia Department of Health and the Virginia Department of Education allowing for more leniency with mask-wearing in middle and high schools, at RPS, we will be maintaining our 100% mask-wearing policy for all students, staff, and visitors. We feel this is the safest course of action, particularly with the surging delta variant.

We also strongly encourage everyone 12 or older to get vaccinated right away if you haven't already done so. If you're still on the fence, please note that nearly all new infections right now are occurring in unvaccinated individuals. In addition, by getting vaccinated you're helping ensure that RPS remains open for in-person instruction. In short, the vaccine protects you, your loved ones, and all children in Richmond. Please, get the shot as soon as you can.

Petersburg City Public Schools

Petersburg City Public Schools will continue to implement safety protocols and practices throughout our school buildings. Staff will review the VDH guidance that was shared with school divisions today to determine specific next steps for the 2021-2022 school year.

Hanover County Public Schools

Dear Families, Faculty, and Staff, We hope you are having a great summer. We are writing today with an update regarding new state COVID-19 guidance for the upcoming school year.
This afternoon, the Virginia Department of Education and the Virginia Department of Health announced new guidance [vdh.virginia.gov] for schools, which serves as a series of recommendations for COVID-19 health and safety mitigation strategies. While the state is not extending its mask mandate for public schools, which expires on Sunday, July 25, mask recommendations are included in the updated guidance. We are evaluating the new guidance to determine our potential mitigation measures for the upcoming school year, including masks. As always, we will be methodical in our approach, and we will communicate with you once we finalize our plans.

Chesterfield County Public Schools

A spokesperson for CCPS said the school division is "reviewing the new guidance".

Henrico County Public Schools

It’s an important topic on the minds of our employees, students and families. We’re beginning to take a close look at the new guidance. It’s important for us to be thoughtful and careful in our approach to school health this fall. We’ll continue the dialogue with our partners at the Virginia Department of Health as we finalize our previously shared plans for five days a week of full-length in-person learning this September.