RICHMOND, Va. -- Students across the Commonwealth exercised their right to not wear a mask to school Monday. However, for many, the decision came with consequences.
Executive Order Two went into effect on Jan. 24, giving parents the right to make decisions concerning their children and masking at schools.
That included the right to not wear a mask to school despite warnings from area schools that mandates have not been lifted in certain districts.
Deep Run High School junior Andrew Kulak was one of those students who didn't wear a mask to class on Monday.
Kulak said he was sent to the Henrico County High School's auditorium with approximately seven other kids who came to school without a mask.
“They were told that they will stay there to basically asynchronously learn, so no classroom instruction, which is ironic because SB 1303, what it's there for is to ensure that our children can be in the classroom and receive instruction and be learning with their teachers,” said Andrew’s mother, Rachael Kulak.
“To hear that he's been corralled into the auditorium separated, segregated from his classmates, for exercising his right to not wear a mask in this environment is is frustrating, and it's upsetting,” Rachael added.
Chesterfield County freshman Nathaniel Peake walked into Clover Hill High School without his mask Monday. His mom Tonia Peake said he declined a mask from the school, so he was given plexiglass to take with him to each of his classes.
“He sent me a text at around 8:30 this morning that said, ‘boxed in, still smiling.’ So, I think he's just happy to be able to breathe,” Tonia said.
“Anyone who wants to be masked or adopt any mitigation strategies, by all means, do it,” added Tonia. “Do what you need to do to feel safe. But you may not compel other parents to adopt the same strategies for their kids. That's against the law. So, I hope the Supreme Court will rule this week that that's what the law says."
Many school districts across the Commonwealth are still requiring masking despite the governor’s Executive Order.
“This is not about individual freedom. This is about the collective good of all of us. This is about us all belonging to each other and being responsible for each other,” said Richmond parent Teresa Kennedy. ”I am baffled by Governor Youngkin’s decision to rescind mask requirements at schools in a time when COVID-19 cases are surging across Virginia."
The governor has asked Virginians to listen to school principals while legal battles on the issue are worked through. CBS 6 asked parents if they considered the governor’s advice before sending their kids to school without a mask.
“I can answer that both as an attorney, but also as a parent," said Tonia. “ I thought he meant to say listen to your principles, p-l-e-s, because I think the principle of this argument is, parents have rights. We have codified rights in the law that came far before the current Senate Bill 1303, that people are talking about which, you know, said we should try to follow the guidance that the CDC issues. While the CDC has issued guidance on masks and recommends them, it doesn't even begin to pretend to order them because the CDC is not a lawmaking body."
“I do not want my children to be the cause of the death of an immunocompromised teacher and immunocompromised student or an immunocompromised family member who that my children would or whose children would bring it home,” said Kennedy.
“It's frustrating that SB 1303 was passed in March 2021. At the end of July and August, school boards were voting to make masks optional and then governor at the time, Northam stepped in and said, no, no, no everyone keeps the masks and school boards just threw up their hands and said, Okay, we'll listen to the governor,” said Rachael.
“Six months later, Governor Youngkin comes in and reinforces that parents have that right and all of the sudden school boards feel like it's illegal. That is, that's mind-boggling to me,” she added.
CBS 6 reached out to the governor’s office and a spokesperson said, “We are disappointed that some are still not listening to parents who want to protect children's health and wellbeing. Data shows that constant mask-wearing can have harmful side effects on some of our children and who better to recognize those side effects than their parents. We encourage students and parents to communicate any reports of disciplinary action, separation, or expulsion to firstname.lastname@example.org."
CBS 6 also reached out to area school systems.
“To the best of my knowledge, RPS did not have any students show up maskless in protest so this isn't an issue for us,” said Richmond Public Schools spokesperson Sarah Abubaker.
Henrico Public Schools spokesperson, Eileen Cox, said, “The expectation is that students are wearing masks in HCPS schools. The division has masks available at every school for anyone who needs one. School administrators addressed individual cases with students and their parents/guardians. If the concern cannot be resolved collaboratively, it may be necessary for a student to learn asynchronously in a designated location at a school (such as an auditorium that allows for physical distancing) or outside of the school building.”
As of this publication, CBS 6 had not heard back from Chesterfield County Public Schools.