Governor’s mask order stirs up Fluvanna schools

By Ruthann Carr

As promised, one of Governor Glenn Youngkin’s first duties after being sworn in on Jan. 15 was to rescind his predecessor’s school mask mandate. 

However, a threatened protest at the Fluvanna Public Schools didn’t take place on Monday (Jan. 24).

School Superintendent Peter Gretz said: “We have had no issues today. (It was a) very smooth morning at all schools and on all buses.”

A high school staff member who preferred to not be named, echoed Gretz’ remark.

“Fortunately we did not have any disruptions this morning,” the staff member said.  “We were prepared for the worst.  We are always at the door to give out masks on a daily basis so it was normal… We always have a few that take them but still don’t put them on right away but eventually they get it on.”

The governor’s Executive Order #2 which took effect Jan. 24, said in part, “requiring virtually every child in Virginia to wear masks virtually every moment they are in school have proven ineffective and impractical.” 

The order allows parents to choose – without providing a reason – to not have their children subject to mask mandates. 

That action sent parents, students, school boards and the community into a tizzy. 

A group of Chesapeake parents filed a lawsuit directly to the Virginia Supreme court claiming Youngkin is violating a law they believe made masking conditional as part of school reopening.

Virginia Senate Bill 1303 requiring masks be worn in schools and on buses.  

Virginia’s Attorney General Jason Miyares filed documents Jan. 20 asking the Supreme Court to dismiss the lawsuit.

Some school districts suspended their mask mandates, while others voted to abolish theirs.

In August, the Fluvanna School Board voted to implement universal masking. As of publication, the Board had not met to change that order.

Gretz sent an email to parents on Jan. 17 reminding parents that federal law requires students wear masks while riding the bus.

It also laid out the quandary the order puts schools in. 

“Schools and school boards are compelled to follow Executive Orders, and are also compelled to follow statutory law,” the email stated. “Ultimately, we want to keep our schools safe and healthy, maintain our ability to keep schools open, and ensure compliance with the law.”

On Jan. 20, Gretz sent an email to Fluco staff and families that said he learned some parents were trying to organize students to come to school Monday (Jan. 24) without a mask. 

“I urge you not to bring conflict to our schools Monday, and certainly not to involve children in it,” Gretz wrote in the email.” Our students have missed too much school; they need instruction, connection and normalcy. Deliberately encouraging students to come to school without masks will not only be disruptive, but damaging to the entire school and community.”

Two days later, Gretz sent out another email – entitled “The Bus Rumor.” 

“I’m aware that a rumor has been circulating that we have instructed drivers to abandon what we’ve been doing thus far and start leaving unmasked children stranded on the side of the road on Monday. This is absolutely false.”

Gretz said a memo was sent out telling drivers to continue the policy they’ve followed since the beginning of the school year. That policy is drivers won’t let secondary (older) students board the bus if they refuse to wear a mask. 

Elementary students who refuse to wear a mask will be taken to school where an administrator will take it from there. 

“Certainly if the parent of an elementary student who refuses to put the mask on is there, the driver will explain to the parent that students are required to wear masks on the bus and leave the student with the parent if they still refuse,” Gretz wrote.

The governor’s Executive Order #2 also directed the Virginia Department of Health to issue new guidance to schools consistent with the Executive Order,

“I anticipate that the school board will discuss and consider this (mask) issue when it meets Thursday (Jan. 27) morning for the budget seminar.”

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