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Henrico students enter school with masks, some maskless

Published: Jan. 24, 2022 at 4:04 PM EST|Updated: Jan. 24, 2022 at 6:44 PM EST
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HENRICO COUNTY, Va. (WWBT) - A “very small number” of the 59,000 students and staff in Henrico County Public Schools (HCPS) showed up on Monday without a mask, according to an HCPS spokeswoman.

This comes as Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s Executive Order #2 went into effect on Monday. However, the order faces a number of legal bouts and is expected to be taken up by the Supreme Court of Virginia this week.

“HCPS is pleased to report that successful instruction was reported at all our schools today,” said HCPS spokeswoman Eileen Cox. “We continue to adhere to our mask protocols with fidelity. And, we appreciate the students, parents, teachers and principals who worked together to resolve individual issues respectfully.”

One Douglas S. Freeman High School parent said she was one of those conversations with school leaders on Monday.

Her son, a senior, walked into school on Monday equipped with the executive order, the latest VDH guidance and no mask.

“We’ve talked to him about Executive Order #2 and what’s going on,” said Heather Alexander. “He’s actually taking Constitutional Law this year, so he said what a better way to put to the test what I’ve learned. I’m going to be peaceful and respectable.”

Shortly after his arrival, Alexander got word her son was in the front office and she needed to come inside.

“They segregated my son and put him in an office to learn asynchronously, but they obviously didn’t want to do that all day,” she said. “I told the principal to relay a message to my son that he should go back to class today.”

That means her son did put on a mask in order to continue with his day.

Cox said the expectation is that students will wear masks per the policy voted on by the school board back in August.

“They’re listening to the teachers, the irrational fears of the teachers and it’s basically a power struggle,” Alexander said.

However, several local education associations believe otherwise.

“I think we’re standing for the health and safety of our children, and their families at home, which includes their parents,” said Henrico Education Association President Patrick Miller.

Miller joined union leaders from Richmond and Chesterfield Monday morning in support of mask mandates.

“When a despondent governor puts his political career before the health of his constituents, unsafe working conditions for educators become unsafe learning conditions for children,” he said.

While thousands of Henrico students entered school with masks on, Alexander is hopeful the Supreme Court of Virginia will vote in favor of parent choice.

“I’m praying for Youngkin and his staff that it will be back in the parent’s hands,” she said. “The school boards have way too much power, way too much power.”

On Friday, the Governor’s Office, in coordination with the Virginia Department of Health and Department of Education, released updated guidelines to go along with the signing of Executive Order 2 and COVID-19 mitigation overall in a school environment.

“I have said all along that we are going to stand up for parents,” Youngkin said. “Executive Order 2 is not about pro-masks versus anti-mask, it’s about empowering parents. I am confident that the Virginia Supreme Court will rule in the favor of parents, reaffirming the parental rights clearly laid out in the Virginia code § 1-240.1. In the meantime, I urge all parents to listen to their principal, and trust the legal process.”

According to Henrico Schools, if there is a situation involving a maskless student, school administrators will address the case with students and their parents/guardians. If the concern cannot be resolved collaboratively, “it may be necessary for a student to learn asynchronously outside of the school building.”

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