CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. -- Masking in schools has been an emotional conversation among some parents ever since students started wearing masks during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The conversation moved back to the forefront this week in response to an executive order from Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin that aims to allow parents to opt-out of classroom mask mandates.
Chesterfield parent Shannon Ronaldson said she decided to pull her child from public school over fears that the county won't soon require students to wear masks in class.
"I would love to send them back but it's scary now," Shannon, who opted to home school her children, said. "I know I'm going to have the worst time teaching my kids math."
Under Youngkin's order, the statewide COVID-19 mask mandate in K-12 schools would end Jan. 24.
"I think it's absurd. Absurd!" Ronaldson said. "It's getting bad now. Imagine how bad it's going to be without masks."
Chesterfield hasn't made a decision yet on whether it will require masks in class after Jan. 24.
Over in Henrico, parent Rachael Kulak said she believed it was time to ease mask mandates. She said COVID was not something that people need to continue to live in fear about.
Kulak said parents know what's best for their kids and said she was frustrated about Henrico's initial announcement that stated there would be no changes to the school system's mask policies.
"They should not have to be privy to all of our children's medical information to try and make those best choices for them," Kulak said.
She said regardless of what Henrico Schools decides, she planned to send her child to school without a mask on Monday.
"I'm planning that on January 24th, per my parental rights, and for the Commonwealth of Virginia, and Governor Youngkin's order, it will be an option for us," she said. "I'm happy to provide an opt-out letter or whatever they need to feel better about my choice for my child."
Victoria Cobb, with The Family Foundation, urged parents to be patient as the legal process played out.
"We're going to see litigation. We are already seeing it in certain districts where parents are saying, wait, I was just given this right. And yet, my local school district is attempting to deny that right. So this is going to head to court," Cobb said.
On Tuesday, a group of parents from Chesapeake sued Youngkin over the order.
The lawsuit, filed Tuesday with the Supreme Court of Virginia, argued Youngkin’s order ignores a state law signed last year that required school districts to follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) COVID-19 mitigation guidelines to the “maximum extent practicable” when opening during the pandemic.
The CDC currently advises universal indoor masking in school settings.
"This particular legal action isn't about trying to fight against parental rights. I mean, parental rights are very important. But the executive branch doesn't make the law and it doesn't get to override the law," Matthew Castillo, a plaintiff in the lawsuit, said.
For Virginia parents looking for guidance on what to do, the Virginia Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics is strongly recommending that children continue to mask up in school.
"This is the biggest disease burden we've seen in kids," Dr. Tiffany Kimbrough, with Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU, said. "It's not enough to say if you feel sick, stay home. And it's possible that omicron can still spread in those one to two days before you develop symptoms or you don't develop symptoms at all."
Kimbrough said at her practice, the positivity rate among kids testing for COVID-19 is at 40%, the highest rate she'd seen throughout the pandemic.
Some 20% of these cases were asymptomatic, she said. While the hospitalization rate is currently sitting at 0.8% percent, the number of patients is actually higher due to transmission.
"Masking is one important tool in that toolkit in order to help keep kids in person in school," Dr. Kimbrough said.
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