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Virginia lifts statewide mask mandate at schools, local districts now responsible for mask decisions

Masks will remain required on buses, as that is a federal order

Will students and teachers be required to wear masks at school this fall? That depends on where you live.
Will students and teachers be required to wear masks at school this fall? That depends on where you live.

Will students and teachers be required to wear masks at school this fall? That depends on where you live.

The State Health Commissioner’s Public Health order that required mask-wearing in schools is set to expire on July 25 and will not be renewed, the Virginia Department of Health and Virginia Department of Education announced on Wednesday.

With the mandate lifted, the decision on mask requirements will be made on the local level at each of the state’s 132 school divisions.

While not required, Virginia leaders strongly recommend the guidance with regards to masking for the 2021-2022 school year:

  • Elementary schools should implement a requirement that students, teachers, and staff wear masks indoors, regardless of vaccination status, until vaccination is available for children under 12 years old and there has been sufficient time to allow for children younger than 12 years old to be fully vaccinated.
  • At a minimum, middle and high schools should implement a requirement that students, teachers and staff who are not fully vaccinated wear masks indoors.
    • While school divisions regularly confirm school-required immunization records of their students, they should consult with their counsel in determining if and how to confirm student and staff COVID-19 vaccinations.
  • All schools may want to consider universal masking for specific reasons as outlined in certain circumstances by the CDC.
  • All schools should be prepared to adjust local mask policies as local public health conditions evolve throughout the year.

“Virginia has followed the science throughout this pandemic, and that’s what we continue to do,” said Gov. Ralph Northam. “This guidance takes into consideration recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and the American Academy of Pediatrics, and will provide necessary flexibility for school divisions while ensuring a safe, healthy, and world-class learning environment for Virginia’s students. Again, I strongly urge every eligible Virginian to get vaccinated. Getting your shot will protect you, your family, and your community—and it is the only way we can beat this pandemic once and for all.”

All schools in Virginia are required to make in-person instruction available to all students in the 2021-2022 school year, pursuant to Senate Bill 1303 which was passed during Virginia’s 2021 legislative session.

The CDC federal order requiring masks be worn on public transportation remains in effect and applies to buses operated by Virginia public schools.

According to the updated guidance, physical distancing of at least 3 feet should be maximized to the greatest extent possible but schools should not reduce in-person learning to keep a minimum distance requirement.

Click here to read the complete 14-page interim guidance for COVID-19 prevention in Virginia Pre-K to 12 schools.

After the news broke, the Virginia Education Association, the state’s teachers’ union, announced that it backs the recommendation of the American Association of Pediatrics that everyone over 2 years old, as well as adults, should continue to wear masks while inside school buildings.

Below is the full statement from VEA President James J. Fedderman:

On Monday, the American Association of Pediatrics recommended that as we return to school buildings, all children over 2 years of age and all adults should wear masks to further prevent the spread of COVID-19, which has now killed more than 600,000 Americans.

The Virginia Education Association strongly endorses this recommendation as one of the mitigating strategies we need to take to stop the spread of this virus.

Only a multi-layered approach is going to protect the health and safety of our students, their families and communities, and the educators who are serving the children. We have seen new variants of COVID emerge that are more easily transmitted from one person to another. New cases of COVID are affecting more younger Americans.

Let me be quite clear: we need fewer Americans in hospital beds and more students at their desks with their dedicated teachers and support staff.

And everyone has a role in making that happen. Everyone eligible for a vaccine should be getting it. All adults and children above the age of two should wear masks in school buildings and during school activities. School divisions must provide adequate space and ventilation for everyone to study and to do their jobs safely.

We are making progress against this virus—but we cannot let it gain a new foothold in our communities and in our schools. Wearing masks is a small price to pay for keeping everyone healthy and learning.

VEA President James J. Fedderman

About the Author:

Jeff Williamson arrived at WSLS 10 in March 2016.