By Stefanie Jackson – After one local school district hit a snag last week, both Accomack and Northampton public schools have implemented mask-optional regulations for students and are in compliance with the new state law allowing parents to exempt their children from school mask mandates.
Gov. Glenn Youngkin signed Senate Bill 739 into law Wednesday, Feb. 16, which took effect immediately through an emergency clause approved earlier that week by the Virginia Senate and House of Delegates. The bill provided schools a deadline of March 1 to comply with the new law.
When Accomack students returned to school Thursday, Feb. 17, at Chincoteague Elementary School they were greeted by police officers and school administrators handing out face masks to children, according to parent Abbagail Brass.
Her 10-year-old daughter, Amaya, whom Brass described as a straight-A student who had never been disciplined in school before, was suspended for five days after removing her mask during the school day with her mother’s permission.
However, by Friday, Feb. 18, Superintendent Chris Holland had notified parents via letter and a recorded phone message that Accomack County Public Schools would “transition to a mask-optional learning environment for all students in our buildings on February 22, 2022.” (Schools were closed Monday, Feb. 21, for Presidents Day.)
Northampton County Public Schools Superintendent Eddie Lawrence issued a letter to parents Feb. 22 also stating the school district would transition to a “mask-optional learning environment,” starting Wednesday, Feb. 23.
Both letters noted that wearing masks will still be required in certain circumstances:
- Federal regulations require that students continue wearing masks on school buses.
- Anyone who tests positive for COVID-19 or any unvaccinated close contact of someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 must quarantine for five days; upon returning to school, that person must wear a mask in school for five days.
- The Virginia Department of Labor and industry standards require all school employees and visitors to continue wearing masks in schools.
Both letters stated that wearing masks in school is still encouraged as a strategy to reduce transmission of COVID-19.
Lawrence’s letter noted that school employees will not be asked to enforce parents’ decisions on masks. Parents were asked, “Please speak with your children about your decision and expectations about whether they will or will not wear masks in school, and ask that they respect the choices of other students.”
Northampton schools will “focus on maintaining a positive and welcoming learning environment in which students feel comfortable wearing a mask if they choose to do so,” the letter stated.
Lawrence said Tuesday that to the best of his knowledge, no Northampton student had been suspended for not wearing a mask in school.