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Chesapeake parents, students weigh in on both sides of mask debate in schools

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Posted at 12:32 AM, Jul 27, 2021

CHESAPEAKE, Va. – With the school year soon to begin, the debate on mask wearing inside classrooms continues.

Parents on both sides of the issue spoke out during a Chesapeake school board meeting Monday night even though the issue was not on the agenda. A total of 49 speakers signed up to speak on various topics. Most folks spoke either in support of mandated mask wearing or keeping it as a choice for students this school year.

Chesapeake parents and students rallied ahead of Monday’s school board meeting, pleading that masks inside classrooms remain optional.

10th grade Grassfield High student Johnny Orlando, who is vaccinated, said he spent his first year of high school last year virtual because of the mask mandate.

“I didn’t want to get suffocated, and I didn’t want to feel like I’m in a prison,” said the 15-year-old.

The growing debate over masks continued inside the administration building during a packed meeting as school children under the age of 12 remain too young to get the shot.

“Follow the many public health agencies who are all saying the same thing, masks for all in the fall,” said Samantha Lester who supports a uniform mask policy.

Parents made passionate arguments for and against the idea.

“It shouldn’t be mandated for anybody to wear anything,” said Tony Melfy, who has three young daughters in elementary school. “It's just wrong, especially a child. When they're in school, they're learning your facial expressions. They're learning how to read people and you're taking that away from them by making them wear a mask. Don't make them more mask, please. My kids cry when they come home. It's heartbreaking.”

Amanda Lambert has an 11-year-old who is not old enough to get vaccinated. She supports a uniform mask policy.

“The pandemic is not over,” said Lambert. “The Delta variant is spreading and is remarkably more dangerous and more easily transmissible than the original strain, especially amongst those who are not vaccinated, which is a significant portion of our students.”

Parent Bailie Rice spoke out in support of keeping masks optional in school.

“Let parents decide what is best for their kids and let staff decide what is best for them,” Rice said. “I also want to say, my whole family had COVID and we're perfectly fine. My son has asthma and he's perfectly fine and I will not ask him.”

The school board voted on June 14 to make masks optional inside classrooms this school year if there is no state mandate. Dr. Chris Vail, a spokesman for CPS, said the administration is working on details on how to implement the policy in the fall.

Monday’s meeting comes after the governor’s public health order mandating masks in schools expired Sunday, July 25, leaving the mask policy up to local school divisions.

Virginia guidance, however, strongly recommends divisions adopt a policy requiring masks in elementary schools and consider universal masking, among other things.

Currently, a federal mandate requires everyone to wear a mask on school buses and other public transportation.

Related article: Parents passionately plea for Virginia Beach schools to drop mask policy; School board votes down proposal, for now