Mask advocates present petition to Newport News school board members urging them to keep the mandate

Posted at 6:38 PM, Jan 18, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-19 04:45:27-05

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. - Another group of community members has expressed their concerns for Gov. Glenn Youngkin's recently signed executive order that will lift mask mandates in schools.

A local group, Red4Ed advocates, presented a petition to the Newport News School Board Tuesday evening asking them to keep the school mask mandate in place.

Conor Collins, an NNPS social studies teacher, created the petition over the weekend after learning about Gov. Youngkin's executive order lifting mask mandates in Virginia's public schoolsand making them optional.

By Tuesday evening, Collins said the petition had more than 150 signatures from parents, teachers, students and community members urging school board leaders to keep the mask mandate.

"I think it’s the right thing to do, just morally and legally as well," said Collins.

The petition was handed over to the school board during the meeting Tuesday night. Collins and other #Red4Ed advocates attended the meeting and made public comments about the need for a continued mask mandate.

“It’s also more of a moral obligation, I think for the Newport News school board to safeguard the protection of their staff, their employee’s and the community by trying their best to follow scientific, CDC-backed guidance of mitigating the spread of COVID-19,” Collins said.

The petition reads:

"We ask that the Newport News School Board publicly reiterate their existing commitment to CDC guidance regarding the masking of students and staff in school buildings at all times regardless of vaccination status in accordance with VA SB1303. In order for NNPS to provide quality and safe in-person instruction under SB1303, NNPS should continue to enforce its mask policy."

Tuesday night, the school board was working to dissect the legal interpretation of the state law, which says schools must follow CDC guidelines. The CDC only recommends mask wearing in schools, leaving it up to school boards to decide if they should be mandated.

Meantime, Newport News School Board Chairman Douglas Brown said its attorney is drafting his opinion on what the governor’s order means and the possible ramifications if they don’t comply.

“I think for our board, it’s not so much about politics,” Brown said. “It’s unfortunate the governor’s order created a lot of confusion around what the current law states, and what the context of it is, and we are left in a position of trying to make that interpretation, so we’re going to do that and then do our jobs.”

The governor’s order puts the power back into parents’ hands, giving them the right to choose if they want to mask their kids or not.

The executive order takes effect on Monday, January 24.

Parents are still split on the divisive issue.

“My son is a student at Newport News Public Schools, said Alex Hazelwood, a parent. “Every day, I drop him off I have to pull a mask over his face and it’s awful, completely awful. If your mask protects you, wear it.”

Mary Vause is a NNPS teacher and mother to a first and fifth grader in the school system.

“Please protect our students and staff and families and act now to keep the mask mandate,” said Vause.

Mark Bear has 3 kids at Newport News schools.

“I think you should allow these kids to be kids and have the same freedoms we have,” Bear said. “We need to stand up, have some backbone and let’s go. Let’s do it.”

Eleventh-grade student KeShauna Cottle also addressed her school board Tuesday night. She was pleading to keep the mask requirement inside the classroom so that she can learn in person.

“I just want to be able to go to school and wear my mask,” Cottle said. “I can breathe perfectly fine wearing this mask. I just want to stay safe.”

The board’s chair said the superintendent should have an answer for parents on masks inside classrooms by this Friday, adding the lack of detailed guidance from the governor’s administration is making the decision a challenging one.

Related: Chesapeake parents file lawsuit against Gov. Youngkin over executive order removing mask mandate from schools