Harrisonburg and Rockingham County schools likely to require masks in school this fall

For both Rockingham and Harrisonburg, masks would be required for students in elementary school...
For both Rockingham and Harrisonburg, masks would be required for students in elementary school due to those students not being able to receive a vaccine just yet.(WHSV)
Published: Jul. 22, 2021 at 6:23 PM EDT
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HARRISONBURG, Va. (WHSV) - After new guidelines have been laid out by the Virginia Department of Health and the Virginia Department of Education, school divisions in the Valley are beginning to discuss masks requirements for this upcoming school year.

The updated guidelines are not requirements, but suggest all elementary school students should continue to wear a mask while inside school buildings as well as middle and high school students who are not vaccinated.

Dr. Michael Richards, division superintendent for Harrisonburg City Public Schools, says nothing is set in stone just yet but the way things are looking everyone in the Friendly City will return to school with a mask on.

“With the Delta variant on the rise, with the numbers in Virginia increasing very rapidly, and with the difficulty with ensuring who’s vaccinated and who isn’t I think we’ll probably start this school year with masks on indoors,” Richards said.

Richards says the high school is overcrowded and students can’t be spaced out very well either, so it makes sense for the high school.

He says while students are outside learning in their outdoor classroom spaces they will be able to take their masks off. Richards adds this could change depending on what local data shows as we get closer to the end of August.

If a mask requirement does happen he says the policy will be revisited every month to determine if it needs to be ended. It’s a similar waiting game Rockingham County Public Schools is playing too when it comes to requiring masks this fall.

“I would say the most likely scenario is that at the high school level, masks become optional,” Dr. Oskar Scheikl, division superintendent, said. “At the elementary level it’s a different conversation, there we may have to wait until the vaccine is available to those that are 11 and younger and then go from there.”

Scheikl says masks would be required for elementary students and an optional requirement in Rockingham County may be revisited once those students under the age of 12 are able to receive a vaccine.

Scheikl and Richards both say middle school will be a challenge considering one-third of the students cannot receive the vaccine just yet. Both superintendents say these plans are not final and more discussion between their school boards needs to happen first.

While the mask requirement is left up to each local school division, a federal mandate still requires masks must be worn while on the school bus.

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