Stafford County School Board votes to keep mask mandate despite Youngkin’s order

The Stafford County School Board voted in favor of keeping a mask mandate in place for all students, staff and visitors with no option of opting out for now, despite Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s executive order ending mask mandates.

The board held an emergency meeting Thursday, and after a closed session, members voted 5-2 on a plan to continue the mask mandate.

Board Member Sarah Chase said she requested the meeting to get clarity on whether the school system should follow Youngkin’s executive order, or follow a state law passed last year. The bill states that school systems in Virginia must “offer and prioritize in-person instruction. It also requires school boards to adhere to mitigation procedures, like mask-wearing, to the extent practicable as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control.”

“After meeting with legal counsel, for me it becomes clearer that we need to uphold the law,” Chase said.

Board Member Alyssa Halstead voted against the plan, and said she wasn’t convinced that the state law superseded the governor’s order. Halstead also said the law is too ambiguous.

“They say in the law, we have to follow the CDC guidance (but) the CDC does not require mask mandates. They only recommend that masks…be worn,” Halstead said.

The plan passed by the board includes numerous exemptions to the mandate, including for people who are exercising, have trouble breathing or have certain disabilities.

In a letter to parents after the board’s vote, Superintendent Thomas Taylor said parents who want to request an exemption should first contact their child’s principal.

“We understand that this decision is frustrating for some families,” Taylor added. “As we work through the final four months of this school year, our steadfast commitment remains to provide our students with high quality, in-person instruction.”

It’s the latest response by a Northern Virginia school system to Youngkin’s order, which allows parents to decide if their kids should wear masks or not.

Youngkin’s executive order says parents can choose to opt their children out of wearing masks. That order takes effect Monday.

A number of other Virginia school systems, such as Fairfax, Arlington and Alexandria have already stated their intent to keep mask mandates in place in their schools.

In response to those challenges, Youngkin said his administration would look for every power afforded to the governor’s office to ensure the mandates ended in all Virginia school systems.

WTOP’s Zeke Hartner contributed to this story. 

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Looking for more information? D.C., Maryland and Virginia are each releasing more data every day. Visit their official sites here: Virginia | Maryland | D.C.

Michelle Basch

Michelle Basch is a reporter and anchor at WTOP.

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