PWCS addresses Governor Youngkin's Executive Order on Masking in PreK-12 public schools

UPDATED: PWCS Reaffirms Existing Mask Mandate Despite Governor's Executive Action

Governor's Order may conflict with Senate Bill regarding COVID-19 mitigations in schools

Posted

UPDATES  can be found below primary article. 

As per Prince William County Schools. 

January 17, 2022 

Dear PWCS Families, Employees, and Community,

Thank you for your support as we have worked diligently together to ensure in-person instruction for our students since the first day of school as safely as possible. It has been a remarkable team effort involving our teachers, administrators, staff, and families. 

As the community and nation continue to deal with the ongoing spread of the COVID-19 Omicron variant, PWCS remains committed to a multi-layered mitigation strategy to reduce the impact of the virus on students, staff, and visitors. PWCS COVID-19 mitigation measures remain unchanged at this time, including mask requirements for students, staff, and visitors.

We are aware that over the weekend Governor Glenn Youngkin announced a series of executive orders, including future modifications to guidance on masks in schools. The Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) will also be issuing revised guidance. PWCS is evaluating both the order and anticipated VDOE guidance, along with local, state, and national legal requirements. 

As always, any changes to our mitigation strategies will be made thoughtfully and with the health and safety of students and staff as our priority.  Any decision to remove a mitigation layer must take into consideration our ability to continue in-person instruction.

Thank you for your support and partnership as we work together to support our staff, students, and school communities. 

Sincerely,

LaTanya D. McDade, Ed.D.   
Superintendent   
Prince William County Public Schools 

Prince William County Schools has not yet announced guidance on how teachers or administrators should deal with students who refuse to wear their masks in school and have parental support in that decision.

Article stating Governor Youngkin's mask mandate is linked here and attached. 

UPDATE: JAN. 17 at  1 p.m. 

Governor Glenn Youngkin passed 11 Executive Actions,  Jan. 15, his first day in office. Among them was an executive action to rescind mask mandates for Virginia Public Schools preschool through 12th grade. 

Executive Action 2 (2022) states that parents have the choice of whether their children will wear masks to school. According to the order, parental choice supersedes policies set, "by a teacher, school, school district, the Department of Education, or any other state authority."

Northern Virginia school divisions were not so quick to fall in line with the Governor's mandate. Before Prince William County Schools released its announcement, Fairfax, Arlington, Alexandria and Fauquier school divisions released statements saying their mask mandate will also remain in place.  Some schools divisions question whether Gov. Youngkin's order is legally enforcible. 

The statements made in Executive Action 2 are as follows: 

  1.  The parents of any child enrolled in a elementary or secondary school or a school-based early childcare and educational program may elect for their children not to be subject to any mask mandate in effect at the child’s school or educational program.
  2. No parent electing that a mask mandate should not apply to his or her child shall be required to provide a reason or make any certification concerning their child’s health or education.
  3. A child whose parent has elected that he or she is not subject to a mask mandate should not be required to wear a mask under any policy implemented by a teacher, school, school district, the Department of Education, or any other state authority.
  4.  The Superintendent of Public Instruction shall rescind the Interim Guidance for COVID-19 Prevention in Virginia PreK-12 Schools, issued January 14, 2021, and updated October 14, 2021, and issue new guidance for COVID-19 Prevention consistent with this Order.
  5.  School districts should marshal any resources available to improve (other mitigation strategies) inspection, testing, maintenance, repair, replacement and upgrades of equipment to improve the indoor air quality in school facilities, including mechanical and non-mechanical heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems, filtering, purification, fans, control systems and window and door repair.

UPDATE: JAN. 17 at 1:30 p.m.

An ABCNews story, published Jan. 14, cites Virginia Senate Bill (SB 1303, 2021) as conflicting with the Governor’s Executive Order. According to the article,  Fairfax and Stafford county schools referenced SB 1303 as something the school divisions would be exploring.*

“The bill (SB 1303) requires each school board to provide such in-person instruction in a manner in which it adheres, to the maximum extent practicable, to any currently applicable mitigation strategies for early childhood care and education programs and elementary and secondary schools to reduce the transmission of COVID-19 that have been provided by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC recommends masking wearing in the nation's preK-12 schools.

"CDC recommends universal indoor masking by all* students (ages 2 years and older), staff, teachers, and visitors to K-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status."

That "Key Takeway" CDC is already empowering Virginia school divisions to legally defy the Governor's order. 

Dr. McDade’s statement that “any decision to remove a mitigation layer must take into consideration our ability to continue in-person instruction,” appears to allude to SB 1303.

However, she could simply be referring to the fact that a school division needs enough teachers and students in attendance in order to make in-person instruction work. 

Per SB 1303:

School boards; in-person instruction. Requires each school board to offer in-person instruction to each student enrolled in the local school division in a public elementary and secondary school for at least the minimum number of required instructional hours and to each student enrolled in the local school division in a public school-based early childhood care and education program for the entirety of the instructional time provided pursuant to such program. The bill contains certain exceptions to the abovementioned requirement. The bill requires each school board to provide such in-person instruction in a manner in which it adheres, to the maximum extent practicable, to any currently applicable mitigation strategies for early childhood care and education programs and elementary and secondary schools to reduce the transmission of COVID-19 that have been provided by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The bill requires the Department of Education to establish benchmarks for successful virtual learning and guidelines for providing interventions to students who fail to meet such benchmarks and for transitioning such students back to in-person instruction. The bill also requires all teachers and school staff to be offered access to receive an approved COVID-19 vaccination through their relevant local health district. The bill has an expiration date of August 1, 2022.

*CORRECTION: Stafford County Schools did not say it had made a decision on whether it would enforce masking. 

UPDATED: JAN 17 at 2:30 p.m.

According to the Center for Dignity in Healthcare for People with Disabilities report on state-to-state mask mandates in schools , seven states have been successful in banning school divisions for setting their own mask requirements, while the majority of states allow school divisions to set their own policies. 

"Ten States have attempted bans that prohibit schools districts from setting mask requirements (with various success based on ongoing litigation): AR, AZ, FL, IA, OK, MT, SC, TN, TK, UT. School mask mandate bans1 are currently in effect in seven states: AZ, FL, MT, OK, SC, TX, UT."

"Sixteen states and DC require masks be worn in schools regardless of vaccine status."

The information appears up-to-date as it included the new executive order passed by Gov. Youngkin on Jan. 15. 

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