Chesterfield teachers fearful as parental choice to unmask goes into effect

Published: Jan. 26, 2022 at 11:17 PM EST
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CHESTERFIELD, Va. (WWBT) - Come Thursday, Chesterfield parents won’t have to mask their kids in school. Following a 2-3 vote, Chesterfield County Public Schools is among the latest districts falling in line with Governor Glenn Youngkin’s executive order. The order gives parents the choice to unmask their children in school.

Students will still have to wear masks when on the bus, but once they step inside the school, the mask can come off, as long as they have permission from their parents.

Parents in favor of the decision say this is a matter of freedom.

“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.”

But James Freeman, a teacher in the district and the vice president of the Chesterfield Education Association, questions whose freedom.

“Are we talking about the freedom of someone to live their life however they please? No matter how selfish? No matter how it hurts other people? Or are we talking about the freedom of everyone to be able to live in safety?” Freeman asked.

Wednesday evening, CCPS sent a letter to parents and staff with additional details regarding interim guidance by VDOE and VDH. But Freeman says nowhere in the additional information provided does it say parents have to record whether they’ve given permission to their child not to wear a mask. He says teachers are also not allowed to question if a student got permission.

“We’re not allowed to in any way add additional space for them or put them in a different location in the classroom,” Freeman said. “Parents who are choosing to keep their students masked are not going to be notified if they have an unmasked child in their classroom. They don’t have a choice in any of this.”

Many teachers reached out to NBC12 expressing fear of coming to class Thursday, including one elementary teacher who wishes to remain anonymous.

She says most of the students she teachers are not eligible to receive the vaccine due to their age. She also fears that because many of her students live in multigenerational households, the risk of bringing the infection into the classroom or taking it home to someone with underlying health conditions is greater.

“I have older parents that I’m trying to protect,” the teacher said. “I had COVID last year on Christmas, and it was awful. I don’t think I could do it again, and we don’t know the long-term effects of COVID.”

According to the new guidance, students who do not wear a mask who contract the virus or come into close contact with someone who is positive will have longer isolation and quarantine periods of up to 10 days. Students who do wear a mask could return from quarantine after only five days.

Some teachers believe this will only further disrupt learning for everyone.

“There will be a huge gap in curriculum and what you can cover with students,” the teacher said. “When I only have a handful of students, I can teach all I want, but I know I’ll have to repeat that next week.”

Chesterfield Schools says it will continue to focus on daily health assessment for students and staff, reporting to families and staff regarding positive cases as mitigation strategies. The school system says its improved HVAC systems and ventilation, enhanced cleaning protocols/frequency and social distancing protocols will also help to mitigate the potential spread of infection.

But Freeman fears it may not be enough. He worries CCPS may have another crisis on their hands, beyond the potential spread of infection among teachers, staff, and students.

“I think that you’re going to find that there are a number of teachers that are not going to be coming in tomorrow, and you’re going to find that there are a number of teachers who are already considering resignation because of this,” Freeman said.

NBC12 has reached out to CCPS and Superintendent Merv Daugherty about these concerns from teachers, and if they plan to provide additional clarity on the new decision. At this time, we have received no word from the district.

For more details on the district’s COVID-19 guidance, click HERE.

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