Southwest Virginia schools facing hurdles with new mask guidance from CDC

The nation’s top health agency says masks won’t be necessary inside for vaccinated teachers and students

Schools getting ready to welcome kids back to the classroom this fall will face hurdles following new mask guidance from the CDC.

“Just the unknown,” Superintendent of Radford City Schools Robert Graham says. “It’s like everything with the pandemic, it’s all just unknown.”

The nation’s top health agency says masks won’t be necessary inside for teachers and students vaccinated against COVID-19. However, educators say there’s no doubt it will make for challenging school environments with little time to prepare.

“What do you do with the child who could be medically or religiously exempt from getting a vaccination?” Graham says.

Many like Graham say there are a lot of unanswered questions.

“There’ve been a lot of concerns expressed about privacy for students and staff as far as who has taken the vaccine and who has not,” Henry County Public Schools Communication Director Monica Hatchett says. “Our practice so far has been to go on people’s word.”

Aside from determining who has and hasn’t been vaccinated, not every kid can be. The Pfizer vaccine is the only shot allowed for kids 12 and older. The timeline for younger kids is still unknown.

“Making sure that we’re complying with that distancing in the classroom and on the school bus has been a lot of work,” Hatchett says.

The guidance says schools should continue to space students and their desks three feet apart, but that’s not required of fully vaccinated kids.

Even with the CDC’s announcement, school leaders are looking to health officials. However, health officials say it will be up to each school district to decide.

“It will be a decision for each locality,” New River Health Director Dr. Noelle Bissell says. “Given how protective the vaccines are, I think it’s very reasonable we’re following that guidance.”

Schools leaders are asking for grace and flexibility as they work to provide all they need for kids to be successful and safe.

The Virginia Department of Health says they will be updating its guidance for schools for the upcoming school year, including updates to the mask policy, in the near future now that the new CDC guidance has been released.

About the Author:

Kortney joined the 10 News team as a Lynchburg Bureau Reporter in May 2021.