Virginia school districts react to new recommendations on masks in classrooms

School leaders say wearing a mask could depend on where you live

LYNCHBURG, Va. – Local school districts now have the final say on COVID-19 guidelines for returning to the classroom, and leaders are responding to new recommendations from Virginia’s Department of Education and Department of Health.

“The intent here is to empower those local decision-makers to make data-driven, locally informed decisions that best suit the situation in their area, and I think this guidance does that,” said Dr. Laurie Forlano of VDH.

That guidance is for elementary students and staff to be masked indoors regardless of vaccination status.

Unvaccinated secondary school students and staff should be masked indoors and should consult legal teams on how to enforce this.

Masks are required on school buses per federal order.

“We felt like it was a good balance and this gives localities the flexibility to use local data and context in making these policy decisions,” said Dr. Forlano.

Those decisions have yet to be made in many districts 10 News spoke to Thursday.

Rob Graham, Radford City’s superintendent, says Wednesday’s news is still fresh and they’ll have a decision in the coming weeks. He says he wasn’t sure what Gov. Ralph Northam would decide.

“I didn’t know how [Gov. Northam] would react with the increase of cases that we have from this delta variant; and that really, as a superintendent, puts some concern to me, too, because we really want to do what’s safe for our students, teachers, staff,” said Graham.

Of the other districts we reached out to, leaders in Roanoke City as well as Bedford, Roanoke and Henry counties say they’re reviewing the guidelines.

Leaders in Amherst County say the school board will discuss the policy at their July 29th meeting.

Leaders in Montgomery County say the school board will discuss the policy at their August 3rd meeting.

Leaders in Danville say the school board will discuss the policy at their August 5th meeting.

And according to their website, Lynchburg City Schools planned on implementing masks before the guidance was released.

All Virginia schools are required to offer in-person learning this year. And social distancing at three feet should still be followed.

“If they don’t feel safe, it’s going to be very, very hard to educate,” said Graham.

Virginia’s education association is backing the new guidance.

“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,” said Dr. James Fedderman, president of the Virginia Education Association.

About the Author

Tim Harfmann joined the 10 News team in September 2020 and works at the station's Lynchburg bureau.

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