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Bedford County School Board votes to end mask requirements, contact tracing

The decision goes into effect February 1

Bedford County Public Schools voted to end masks requirements and contact tracing for K-12 students at a board meeting on Thursday night.

BEDFORD COUNTY, Va. – Bedford County Public Schools voted to end masks requirements and contact tracing for K-12 students at a board meeting on Thursday night.

The votes toward the end of the more than three-hour-long meeting were passed 5-2 and will go into effect on February 1.

“It’s not that we don’t believe in COVID-19. It’s not that we disrespect COVID-19. It’s not that we are anti-mask. It’s the fact that the parents should make the choice for the child,” board chairperson Susan Falls Kirby told 10 News Friday.

The motions were made by District Four School Board Representative Marcus Hill.

The first motion passed was: “I move that based on a determination by the school board that requiring the universal masking of students is not practicable. That effective February 1st, 2022, the school board suspends its current masking requirement for all K through 12 students wearing masks while present at school or school-sponsored extracurricular activities. Masks are optional by parental and/or student choice.”

Hill went on to make a second motion: “I move that February 1, 2022, the school board suspend its current practice of contact tracing for students and modify its practices accordingly in the division’s safety and mitigation plan.”

Georgia Hairston and Susan Mele voted against both motions.

Kirby says contact tracing won’t be eliminated entirely.

“If a child is in a classroom that has a COVID-positive student, the parents of that classroom will be notified. We’re not just saying we’re not contact tracing,” said Kirby.

Superintendent Marc Bergin was on the agenda to talk about health and safety mitigation strategies when the motions were made.

The superintendent said 650 students, or about 7% of the student population, expressed some concern about the policy of the board back in August when the board voted to require universal masking.

Bergin told the school board that 385 students withdrew from school in August to homeschool instead or go to private school. He couldn’t say with certainty that it was because of that, but said it’s reasonable to say that it was because of that. In addition, Bergin said there were 272 requests for accommodations on universal masking and all of those were approved.

Discussion included staff challenges to regulate masking, with the superintendent saying some teachers are having to use instructional time to remind students to wear masks correctly.

“Teachers are constantly having to correct [students] to adjust their mask, we have had kids withdraw, we have had kids go to homeschool, we have had to made special concessions. It’s not practicable,” said Kirby.

On Feb. 1, students will still be required to wear facemasks on school buses and social distance in the classroom.

In compliance with VDH and the Virginia Department of Education’s requirements, faculty and staff will still be required to wear masks.

Families and students can make the decision on whether to wear masks in schools.

This all comes as Bedford County reported 404 new COVID-19 cases across the school system from January 5 - 13 of this year. Half of those cases were reported Monday-Thursday of this week.

[SEE THE LIST OF LOCAL COVID CASES IN SCHOOLS HERE]

This school board vote comes after Roanoke County made a similar decision earlier this month, removing the student mask mandate if Governor-elect Glenn Youngkin canceled the public health order. Two days later, the school board called a special meeting to reverse course and rescind the earlier vote.


About the Authors:

You can see Jenna weekday mornings at the anchor desk on WSLS 10 Today from 5-7 a.m.

Brittany Wier joined the 10 News team as the morning reporter in August 2021.