Chesterfield school board votes to no longer require masks in school
CHESTERFIELD, Va. (WWBT) - Chesterfield school leaders voted to allow parents to choose whether or not their children wear a mask in schools.
After roughly an hour of discussion, the vote passed by a slim margin of 3-2 in favor of giving parents and students the choice. The decision is effective on Jan. 27.
There was no public comment portion of the meeting, but many of those who showed up say they were ultimately satisfied with the board’s decision.
“We the parents have a huge victory in Chesterfield tonight,” Anne Taydus said.
“We are very excited and relieved that now we have a choice,” John Ward said. “We can tell our children not to wear a mask; just leave it up to the individual.”
The vote comes a week after the board voted to maintain its mask policy until it received further guidance from the state.
Some board members were vocal in their opposition, given current state law on mitigation measures in schools and the surge of the Omicron variant.
“Just like any other public space, there are rules and expectations that folks who choose to participate in that public space must follow. It’s OK for us to have rules,” Vice-Chair Dot Heffron said. “Now is the time to ramp up our mitigation and prevention until we are on the other side of the Omicron wave.”
“It seems inconceivable that we would consider allowing the option to be unmasked,” Heffron said,
Midlothian District Representative Kathryn Haines also expressed concern over the legal implications of voting in favor of parental choice. Since August, Chesterfield has been following mitigation measures cited in SB-1303, which included guidelines like universal masking in school according to recommendations given by the CDC.
Haines says she believes the bill should be drafted differently to allow the district to make decisions based on guidance from the VDH. Even still, she says her duty was to uphold the rules in place.
“I spoke with multiple lawyers, and not one has given me legal advice that suggests that our board is exempt from Senate Bill 1303,” Haines said. “That leads me to believe that not following it - unless the courts say otherwise - puts our board at legal and financial risk.”
Parents like Tiffany Smith says she believes taking legal action may be the only avenue left for herself and other parents who want to see mask mandates continue in Chesterfield County schools.
“It’s unknown if my son is going to be walking back into school this year,” Smith said. “I don’t know if he’ll be homebound or if we’ll be looking for options that we truly can’t afford; I’ve already filed with the ACLU on his behalf.”
But parents like Taydus say she isn’t convinced that the risk to her child and other children in the school was as great as some board members and parents suggest. She says her child will be coming to school Thursday without her mask; she says she won’t mind if parents choose to mask their children.
“It would be different if we were forcibly unmasking them, but we’re not taking that away from them,” Taydus said.
Smith says she feels as though the vote has left her with few safe options for her son.
“I’m scared to death to send my son into a school building now not knowing if it’s going to be a safe environment for my child, " Smith said.
“Although we may have differences in opinion, we still need to be kind to one another. I’m pro-choice for not wearing a mask, and if you choose to have your child wear a mask. that’s fine,” Ward said.
CCPS told parents to expect more information on their decision Wednesday afternoon.
Chesterfield now joins Hanover, Goochland and Powhatan as districts with policies that fall in line with the governor’s executive order.
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