No mask mandate; no contact tracing

School Board votes

By Ruthann Carr

In response to Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s Executive Order allowing parents to decide whether their child wears a mask at school, Andrew Pullen (Columbia) pushed the Fluvanna School Board to vote: mask mandate or no mask mandate. 

But Pullen took it a step further. 

He asked the Board to vote to stop contact tracing.

“Children are being quarantined because of contact tracing,” Pullen said. “… We have kids staying home and they’re not sick. Plenty of places aren’t doing contact tracing.”

The Board voted 3-2 to make masks optional in schools and to remove all contact tracing. Pullen, Charles Rittenhouse (Cunningham) and Perrie Johnson (Fork Union) voted for the motion; James Kelley (Palmyra) and Gequetta Murray-Key (Rivanna) voted against.

During public comments, five people asked the Board to make masks optional. Some more forcefully than others. 

Danny Reed challenged the Board to “make a decision” even though masks weren’t on the agenda for the budget meeting. 

Reed said the Board worked quickly in August to make the mask rule, calling a meeting to vote just hours after “your governor told you to.” 

When Reed’s three minutes elapsed, he said he was almost done, but Kelley, board chair, struck the gavel and said his time was up. As Reed continued to try to speak, Kelley kept striking the gavel. 

Reed sat down. 

Kelley told the audience they needed to follow the time limit and say their name and address as stated in the public comment rules. 

Reed only gave Palmyra as his address, which Kelley said wasn’t sufficient. 

Someone in the audience asked Kelley what his address was. 

Kelley said his address was listed. And the comment reminded him of another rule: do not address board members individually. 

Jessica Farmer rose to speak and said she wanted the rule changed because “After the last time I spoke and gave my address we have been subjected to hate and vandalism.”

After speaking about how the Nov. 2 election of Youngkin united Virginia, Amber Kidd said it also was a vote for parental rights. 

“We are parents first, regardless of our political views,” Kidd said. “We voted ‘yes’ for our parental rights. Stand up and protect our rights….My only request for you today is let them breathe.”

Jason Hamshar spoke about how the type of masks available are ineffective. He said when his son, a second grader, heard his dad was going to the Board meeting to talk about letting parents decide if their child should wear a mask, his son said, “Tell them I want to see my classmates.”

“You’re not doing anything that makes any sense,” Hamshar said. “I don’t need to co-parent with you guys. I just need you to teach my kids how to read and write.”

Brittany Gray assured the Board if it  “doesn’t make a decision today, the Board will be sued. And if you don’t make them (masks) optional, you will lose to our charter school that we’re building.”

Three students who said they were seniors spoke individually asking the Board to keep the mask mandate. 

All said they believed no one would wear masks and COVID-19 cases would rise if the mandate was lifted. 

Budget talk

School Superintendent Peter Gretz began talk about the Fiscal Year 23 budget by saying Fluvanna is “still building back from the economic downturn.”

“The budget is an opportunity to tell a narrative about where we’ve been and where we’re going,” Gretz said. 

Executive Director for Instruction and Finance Brenda Gilliam said she didn’t expect to see another budget template from Youngkin. 

“Any revisions will happen with the House and Senate,” Gilliam said. 

“The governor promised historic investment in schools and a rise in teacher pay and any of those will have a tremendous effect on our budget.”

The existing template calls for a 10 percent increase in teacher pay over two years. That only covers SOQ (Standards of Quality) positions, which leaves out support staff. Each locality must make that investment.

Gretz recommended the Board ask the county for $1 million. 

The Board will meet again on Feb. 2 at 5:30 p.m., Feb. 10 at 6:30 p.m. and Feb. 16 at a time yet to be determined.

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