Chesterfield School Board votes unanimously to pass universal mask requirements for start of 2021-22 school year

Published: Aug. 10, 2021 at 11:17 AM EDT|Updated: Aug. 11, 2021 at 5:42 AM EDT
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CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. (WWBT) - After several hours of charged and emotional debate and public comment, Tuesday’s Chesterfield County school board voted 5-0 to implement universal masking indoors to start the 2021-2022 school year.

This decision echoes a memo to the school board posted Tuesday morning by Superintendent Mervin Daugherty, which said that based on current Virginia law, expert opinions, and local transmission data, it was best to follow guidance from the CDC, Virginia Department of Health and county officials.

“It is required that all individuals (including visitors, volunteers, etc.) wear masks when indoors (including at school orientations, back to school events, etc.) at all Chesterfield schools/offices/facilities and, in compliance with federal law, on Chesterfield school buses (and while loading/unloading school buses while on school property),” the memo stated.

At this point, the school system is not requiring staff and students to get COVID-19 vaccinations but strongly encourages them.

The decision comes after a polarized debate took place hours before the meeting was underway when parents of opposing views rallied outside the administration building.

On one side of the building, concerned parents like Carolyn Ferraro said the decision to mask children should be left up to parents.

“That’s all I’ve ever advocated for this entire time; we know what’s best for our kids,” Ferraro said. “If my concerns about a mask are greater than the risk of getting COVID, then I should have the option to say my kids aren’t doing this because my fears lie here.”

On the opposite side of the administration building, Chesterfield parent Michael Karabinos led a masked rally encouraging the school board to implement a universal mask requirement.

“We want to make sure that we have safe schools, and that includes making sure students are masked on day one,” Karabinos said.

Daugherty did list a number of exceptions for when masks do not need to be worn:

  • Individuals eating or drinking;
  • Individuals exercising or using exercise equipment;
  • Any person who is playing a musical instrument when wearing a mask would inhibit the playing of the instrument (e.g., wind or brass instrument) so long as at least six feet of physical distance can be maintained from other persons;
  • Any person who has trouble breathing, or is unconscious, incapacitated, or otherwise unable to remove the mask without assistance;
  • Any person seeking to communicate with people who are deaf or hard of hearing and for which the mouth needs to be visible;
  • When temporary removal of the mask is necessary to secure government or medical services;
  • When necessary to participate in a religious ritual; and
  • Persons with health conditions or disabilities that prohibit wearing a mask.

“Adaptations and alternatives for individuals with health conditions or disabilities are to be considered whenever possible to increase the feasibility of wearing a mask to reduce the risk of COVID-19 spreading if it is not possible to wear one,” the memo said. “Any person who declines to wear a mask because of a medical condition is not required to produce or carry medical documentation verifying the stated condition, nor shall the person be required to identify the precise underlying medical condition.”

Meanwhile, a presentation posted on the school board agenda shows COVID-19 data in the county. As of Tuesday community transmission was listed as “high.”

Data compiled in a Chesterfield Schools presentation shows COVID-19 community transmission as...
Data compiled in a Chesterfield Schools presentation shows COVID-19 community transmission as "high" in the county.(Chesterfield Schools)

In addition to universal masking, several other mitigation efforts will continue during the 2021-2022 school year. Those mitigation efforts include:

  • Improved HVAC systems and ventilation
  • Enhanced cleaning protocols and frequency
  • Daily health assessment of students and staff
  • Social distancing, where possible
  • Continued reporting to families and staff regarding in-school transmission
  • Quarantining staff and students who test positive for COVID-19
  • Sick and Well clinic spaces

“I understand the appeal to personal freedom, and in a lot of cases, I’m on that side, but someone’s freedom can’t be allowed to affect somebody else,” Karabinos said. “I care about these kids, I care about our community and I want to do what’s best for all of them.”

“We need to come together and work together and compromise someway, somehow to where you respect my decision and I respect your decisions, and not push each other’s wants on other people,” Ferraro said.

This is a developing story and will be updated.

Copyright 2021 WWBT. All rights reserved.

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