The explanation accompanying this executive order states, “Recent government orders requiring virtually every child in Virginia wear masks virtually every moment they are in school have proven ineffective and impractical. They have also failed to keep up with rapidly changing scientific information.” In addition, it states that masks provide little or no health benefit because many children wear masks incorrectly.
“This is part of our layered approach to safety. Universal mask use has proven effective in keeping COVID-19 transmission rates low in our schools and ensuring schools remain safe and open.”
— Arlington Public School Superintendent Dr. Francisco Durán
The issue of mask wearing has been strongly debated as COVID cases rise, schools adjust their schedules, hospitals strain with the patient load and staff shortages, and arguments abound on the mental health impact on children of wearing masks.
Sunday evening Arlington Public School Superintendent Dr. Francisco Durán released a statement headlined “No Change to Current APS Requirements — Masks Required Inside on School Grounds and on Buses.”
“This is part of our layered approach to safety. Universal mask use has proven effective in keeping COVID-19 transmission rates low in our schools and ensuring schools remain safe and open,” Durán’s statement continued.
APS implemented the mask mandate this school year even before Gov. Ralph Northam’s K-12 mask mandate. In addition, the federal requirement from Feb. 2, 2021 is still in place requiring anyone riding public transportation, including a school bus, to wear a mask to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The Superintendent’s update of Jan. 5 was a reminder that APS is committed to keeping schools open for in-person instruction in accordance with guidance from the Virginia Departments of Education and Health, the CDC and the Arlington County Public Health. It explained the layered mitigation which includes plenty of well-fitting masks, washing hands, completing the Qualtrics screener daily and outdoor lunch when possible.
Arlington School Board Chair Barbara Kanninen, says, “It is my understanding that the Governor has overstepped his authority with this executive order. Both local school boards and the general assembly have authorities that the Governor has ignored.” She says that while the Arlington School Board could vote to override the Superintendent’s plan on mask mandates in schools that "personally I believe it would be tremendously irresponsible for us to do so.”
Kanninen adds that the board has supported the superintendent’s operational planning throughout the pandemic because “we know he is the best informed and best prepared to make the decisions that will keep our students safe.”
Meanwhile parents strongly debate the issue of mandatory masks.
Dan Roche reacts to Governor Youngkin’s order: “The purpose of Youngkin’s executive orders banning school masks mandate and CRT is not to be followed. He knows school boards hold jurisdiction here.“ He continues, “The purpose is to embolden parents and kids to pick fights by defying the mandates and challenging curricula. It’s culture war saber rattling, which makes it all the more disappointing.”
Emily Babcock agrees. “I’m furious about Youngkin’s careless, anti-science executive order regarding masking in schools. It’s a matter of community public health, not a freedom of choice. Mr Youngkin’s children attend a school with a strict masking and vaccine mandate, so this feels especially egregious.”
Melanie Preisser, parent of a Yorktown High School student says, “I don’t mind the mask mandate. What I want is for the kids to be able to stay in school.”
Reade Bush, on the other hand, has two children with mask exemptions. His daughter has a speech disorder and is difficult to understand without a mask. “With a mask I can’t understand much of anything she says. When she can’t communicate, it makes her isolated at school.”
Bush says his son has autism but had made great success in school before COVID. Then last year “he deteriorated; he had so many setbacks trying to work at home and then in a school setting where he didn’t get the appropriate assistance.” As a result it is critical that he be in school. However, he says, “our son has sensory issues and we tried for a year to get him in a face covering. It just didn’t work. I call him a sagger. The face covering was always down around his chin.”
Bush says he wasn’t worried about his son getting COVID without a face covering. “He is 10-years-old, extremely healthy with no risk factors.”
And, he adds, “the anxiety, depression it causes; the children can’t relate to one another; can’t see each other’s faces. We have to ask, how is this going to end.”