Newport News Public Schools to become mask optional starting Feb. 24

Newport News Public Schools sign.PNG
Posted at 5:21 AM, Feb 23, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-24 15:58:22-05

NEWPORT NEWS. Va. - Newport News Public Schools have announced that masks will be optional starting Thursday, February 24, 2022.

This decision comes a week after Governor Glenn Youngkin signed Senate Bill 739 into law making the wearing of face masks by students optional in school buildings effective no later than March 1, 2022.

Related: Gov. Youngkin signs bill making masking optional in schools by March 1 after it passes second General Assembly vote

Documentation and/or parental notification will be not required for students to be masked or unmasked.

The school district is asking parents to discuss masks at home in order to prepare their children for how to ‘maintaining a mask-optional learning environment in schools.’

Teachers and staff will not be responsible for student mask use or nonuse, but students who are wearing a mask may be asked to wear them correctly. Additionally, principals will not be able to accommodate requests for class changes or classroom seating assignments due to mask preference.

Sarah Bickings, a Newport News Public Schools employee and parent, said, "It just feels like we're rushing things."

Bickings works at an elementary school in Newport News. She said NNPS transitioning to masks now being optional for all students is premature.

"There's all these questions that I feel haven't been addressed, and so the school system is like, 'We're ready, we're ready,' but as a parent, are we really ready? Do we have air filters? Can kids be distanced?" Bickings said.

Although masks will continue to be required for all NNPS employees, Bickings believes with masks now being optional for students, it will affect staffing numbers. There's already a teacher shortage within the school system.

"We're already asking a lot of teachers, a whole lot of our teachers, and now this is one more ask of them and I don't think it's fair when it's a health and safety issue," Bickings said.

Dr. Doug Mitchell, a pediatrician and the medical director of the Children's Hospital of the King's Daughters Medical Group in Norfolk, said families shouldn't let their guard down just yet. Health leaders said just last week they saw over 100 COVID-19 cases and had seven new hospitalizations.

"It creates a problem when it's not expected, because there is peer pressure among children. Those sort of things are more problematic and harder for children," Mitchell said.

Another concern, according to Mitchell is MIS-C, multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children. Within the last few months the medical group has treated over 40 children with the post-COVID complication, which can be life threatening if not quickly treated.

Mitchell said maintaining more than one mitigation measure is the best way to move forward until things are a little bit better.

Another NNPS parent said her children will continue to wear masks in school.

"I've discussed it with my children. They're not putting up a fuss, saying, 'No, Mommy, I don't want to wear my masks,' they're like, 'No, we're still going to wear our masks,'" Sajada Lewis said.

Students in York County, Hampton and Isle of Wight now all have the choice to wear a mask in class. Masks have already been optional in Gloucester, Virginia Beach and Chesapeake for some weeks.

"I still believe that there are going to be a large majority that are still wearing their masks, but I'm confident that my children won't follow what everyone else is doing," Lewis said.

The majority of schools in Hampton roads have already peeled back their policies that make masks optional. However, Portsmouth will discuss optional masking in schools in their school board meeting tomorrow night, and as of now Norfolk has not made an official announcement on optional masking.