Toward the end of the month, a state-imposed mask mandate at Virginia schools will no longer be enforced, but the state’s Department of Health is encouraging school divisions to create mask policies.
On July 25, the public health order forcing schools to require face coverings will expire and will not be renewed. However, the VDH issued guidelines that strongly recommend school divisions impose mask mandates for students, staff and teachers.
“Virginia has followed the science throughout this pandemic, and that’s what we continue to do,” Gov. Ralph Northam said in a statement. “This guidance takes into consideration recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and the American Academy of Pediatrics, and will provide necessary flexibility for school divisions while ensuring a safe, healthy, and world-class learning environment for Virginia’s students. Again, I strongly urge every eligible Virginian to get vaccinated. Getting your shot will protect you, your family, and your community—and it is the only way we can beat this pandemic once and for all.”
The state guidance urges elementary schools to require students, teachers and staff to wear masks while indoors until vaccines are available for students less than 12 years old and they have had sufficient time to get fully vaccinated against COVID-19. It also encourages middle schools and high schools to require unvaccinated students, teachers and staff to wear masks indoors.
Schools are encouraged to require 3 feet of physical distancing if it does not impede the school’s ability to provide seating for all students.
Virginia’s guidance also states all schools may want to consider universal mask requirements and all schools should be prepared to adjust mask policies to reflect local public health conditions as they evolve.
“The science is clear that vaccinations and masks help keep our communities safe from COVID-19,” Secretary of Health and Human Resources Daniel Carey said in a statement. “Due to the dedication, expertise, and close partnership of the Virginia Department of Health and the Virginia Department of Education, the Commonwealth’s children and the individuals that help them learn will be protected by proven strategies, without a one-size-fits-all approach.”
Schools are required to provide in-person education for the school year. Per a new state law, the schools must provide students with in-person education for at least the number of school days required by the state. This will effectively bring back in-person education five days per week.
House Republican Leader Todd Gilbert, R-Woodstock, criticized the governor for urging schools to require masks.
“Governor Northam failed Virginians throughout the pandemic, and this new guidance is just another example,” Gilbert said. “It is inconsistent with science, passes the buck to local school divisions, will spark mass confusion, and will make it more difficult as our students return to the classroom this fall. It’s an especially cruel requirement for young children, and will only make it more difficult for our teachers to inspire a love of learning in students.”
During the upcoming special session, House Republicans will take legislative action against mask mandates in schools. Republicans have a minority in both chambers of the General Assembly.
This article was originally posted on Virginia won’t require masks at schools, encourages local mask rules