(WJHL) – School district leaders in Virginia were taken by surprise Thursday following Gov. Ralph Northam’s announcement that masks will be required in schools.
“The CDC directive is that people in schools must wear masks. This law was passed by a strong bipartisan vote in the legislature, and I expect school divisions will follow it. If they choose not to follow it, they should have a frank discussion with their legal counsel, ”Northam said.
This announcement stems from Senate Bill 1303, and while the decision to require masks at a time when COVID cases are on the rise may not necessarily come as a shock, district leaders in southwest Virginia have said to News Channel 11 that they generally had an idea of this sort of situation, but this time they didn’t.
Wise County Schools Superintendent Greg Mullins also said he believes such decisions will stay up to the locality, just as it was last school year.
“This bill that was referred to in yesterday’s press conference took some of that autonomy away from the communities,” Mullins said.
Mullins is not the only one surprised by this decision. Norton City Schools Superintendent Gina Wohlford said they were watching the data closely and with a spike seen in the locality, there have still been no cases in her school system.
Mullins and Wohlford agree that the safety of students and school staff is a priority, so they quickly followed suit and adjusted their district-wide mask policies.
“I called my legal counsel for advice on how to move forward with this and so starting today, starting Monday, we’re going to move forward with universal masking. in our schools, indoors for all of our students, staff, faculty and anyone who visits, ”Wohlford said.
Schools in Norton City, along with Schools in Wise County, Schools in Washington County in Virginia, and Schools in Lee County, will all implement their mask requirements on Monday, August 9.
Mullins said that while the conversation around the masks is a mixed bag, he believes they will help keep students safe and is proud of the students in his district for having been able to adapt so much over the past year. .
“We want to do what we think will help our children stay as safe as possible. I don’t know a lot of people who like to wear masks, regardless of their age, but I was very proud of our kids last year for making this adjustment, ”Mullins said.
The goal of schools in Wise County, like many other districts in the region, was to start the year as normal as possible. While masks for everyone, regardless of immunization status, are not what normal district leaders hoped for, they believe strict adherence to CDC guidelines will end mandatory masks sooner rather than later.
“We are trying to maintain a social distance of 3 feet and if we can do that and wear a mask and get through this high transmission time, hopefully we can go back to strongly recommending masks and that is my goal,” he said. Wohlford said.