By Callie Hietala
Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s Executive Order 2 went into effect on Monday, lifting mask mandates for the state’s public-school students. While Henry County Public Schools is complying with the new order, Martinsville City Public Schools has opted to continue requiring its students to wear masks while in school.
The city’s announcement was made by school board chairman Donna Dillard.
“On the advice of our attorney, we will continue to follow our current policy on masking,” Dillard said. “Our policy is based on CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) guidelines. The CDC recommends universal indoor masking by all students aged 2 and older, staff, teachers, and visitors in our schools, regardless of vaccination status.”
Martinsville Superintendent Dr. Zebedee Talley said he was not concerned about potential legal repercussions of the decision. “Even the new governor said that school divisions should follow their policy until this situation goes through the court,” he said.
Seven Virginia school districts—Alexandria, Arlington, Richmond, Fairfax, Falls Church, Hampton, and Prince William County— all filed lawsuits challenging the order.
“This is going through litigation in the courts, this was the board’s policy, and on the advice of our attorney, we’re just staying with our policy and see what happens,” he said.
In contrast, Henry County sent a notice to families on Jan. 21 which stated that “by majority consensus of the school board,” the division moved “to a mask optional status for students in our schools.” Staff are still required to wear masks, the message stated.
The board previously sent a notice that included a call for caution: “It is important to note that there are several members of our school community who have health concerns that warrant mask wearing for those individuals. They may also ask students and staff members to consider wearing a mask as an additional protective measure when they are together.”
The notice also referenced Virginia Senate Bill 1030, which was signed into law March 30, 2021, and directs school divisions to follow “to the extent practicable” CDC guidelines regarding quarantine and isolation periods. “At this time,” it read, “those guidelines state that an unmasked school community member who is exposed to COVID must quarantine.”
However, mask-wearing could prevent the need for a student to miss school, the notice stated. A student, staff member, or teacher who is exposed to the virus while masked and/or fully vaccinated or boosted and/or has had COVID within the last 90 days, will not need to quarantine.
“We have been masking and it has been effective in keeping schools open,” the notice stated. “We continue to encourage mask wearing and will assume you plan for your child to continue to do so; however, if you prefer for your child to opt out of wearing a mask, please contact your student’s school or teacher.”
It also indicated that the school would continue to provide COVID tests for anyone who wanted one and was exhibiting symptoms, providing N95 masks for staff members who opted to wear one at work, and continuing with regular sanitizing and deep cleaning practices.
All students are still required by federal law to wear masks on public transportation, including school buses, it stated.