Masks remain optional in Chesapeake schools after board hears COVID strategic plan

Chesapeake School Board mask debate (August 9).PNG
Posted at 11:29 PM, Aug 09, 2021

CHESAPEAKE, Va. – Monday night broughta renewed debate on wearing masks in Chesapeake Public Schools days after Gov. Ralph Northam saida new Virginia law requires school districts to follow CDC guidelines.

The CDC recommends universal mask wearing, but CPS is one of only a couple districts that currently has a policy where they are optional.

School superintendent Dr. Jared Cotton released his strategic plan on masks at Monday’s school board meeting, and for now parents will continue to choose whether or not to mask their kids.

News 3 spoke with Dr. Cotton just before the meeting wrapped at 9:45 p.m. and asked him if the current policy skirts the law. He said he’s not a part of the conversations with the school board and legal team.

“Our board does talk to legal counsel to get advice on several issues,” Dr. Cotton said. “The board typically does consult with legal counsel when making important decisions, and they're well aware that if there are concerns about issues like this, they do ask their legal counsel to provide advice. I can't speak on specific advice that's been provided, but again, boards typically check with their legal counsel and decisions like this.”

Parents on both sides of the mask debate argued they know what’s best for their child.

“We trust you and now it’s time to trust you with the life of our children,” said one parent.

Another added, “We have the fundamental right to make decisions concerning the upbringing, education and care of our children. Fundamental means our rights cannot be taken away.”

With classes about to start in a couple weeks, school leaders are continuing to recommend masks but are not requiring them inside the classroom.

CPS ninth grade English teacher Amanda Lambert has an 11-year-old in the district who is not old enough to get vaccinated. She supports a uniform mask policy.

“Obviously I want to protect my kid but I have students who are immunocompromised,” said Lambert. “They live with elderly family members; they take care of younger siblings, so it’s big picture for me.”

The renewed debate comes days after a new state law for in-person instruction was put in the spotlight, requiring school districts to follow CDC guidelines that currently recommend masks in school.

But some parents argue the legislation’s wording is open to interpretation saying the law is not specifically calling for a mask mandate.

“I am calling you to stand for the freedoms of the children you were elected to protect, regardless of what comes from Richmond, regardless of threats, and regardless of mandates,” said father of three Paul Harding, who’s against a mandate. "Instead, I encourage you to lead the way by boldly standing fast to your beliefs, not buckling to fear."

Aspen Nolette has three kids in the school district and was considering homeschooling them if a mandate was put in place this school year.

“SB 1303 was effective on July 1," Nolette said. "July 22, he says local school boards, do as you will. August 5, somebody changes it. This is political, and our children are not political pawns.”

Others made emotional pleas to the board to reverse its June decision for optional mask wearing and instead follow the law.

“As a student, I find it disgusting that you were willing to put kids in danger, just so you don't have to wear a tiny piece of fabric on your face,” said rising 7th grade student Michaela Dorval.

Parent Kathryn Kain who has three kids too young for the shot, said her three-year-old daughter Ava has been in and out of hospital because of health complications.

“Through all of Ava's health scares, battles, brushes with death, I have always felt that I could protect her,” said Kain. “I and parents like me need you to do the right thing now that the situation is so much more severe. Please, please, in accordance with the CDC guidelines you are beholden to, please vote to require masks in school for this upcoming year.”

Many parents cited the Delta variant as the reason to make masks mandatory.

“Kids are getting it; kids are spreading it,” said Rebecca Dorval, who has two kids in district including Michaela. “COVID has changed, and we need to change with it, so that we can keep it from spreading through the schools and our community.”

Parents who do not want their kids masked will need to submit an opt-out form to the school’s health advisor.

There were more than 50 speakers at Monday night’s packed meeting, a majority of them voiced their opinion on masks.

Superintendent Cotton said the mask policy could change if there is state mandate from the governor.

Related: Virginia Chapter of American Academy of Pediatrics 'strongly recommends' children 2 and older mask up for fall semester

Contact tracing and quarantining will continue at the school district. There will be more information at the next school board meeting on August 23.

Click here for more Safely at School coverage.