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2 central Virginia school boards tackling COVID-19 differently

Published: Jan. 13, 2022 at 10:51 PM EST
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MADISON COUNTY., Va. (WVIR) - As students get back to the classroom after winter break and a snowstorm, new decisions are being made about their safety. At simultaneous school board meetings Thursday, January 13, two central Virginia counties showed they’re handling COVID-19 rules very differently.

Dozens came to Madison County High School’s auditorium to voice an opinion on a proposed mask exemption. It would allow anyone to bring a note from a parent or guardian, and that’s all they’d need to take off their face covering.

“I don’t believe that this school board or any school board or any governing body ever has the right to even coddle around with the concept of interjecting in these sacred places,” said one public commenter named Justin, who did not share his last name with the board.

Proponents cited freedoms and there were also a handful of false claims made about masks’ effectiveness.

Opponents of the exemption cited rising cases of the omicron variant and the desire to keep everyone, including immunocompromised kids, healthy.

Another public commenter said, “The only way that we are going to keep schools in session in the building and keep our schools in session in the building and keep our kids safe is for them to be masked.”

It wasn’t just the public commenters in Madison Co. putting the COVID-19 divide on display: Discussions happening over Zoom at the same time, in a county less than an hour away, were completely different.

The Albemarle County School Board is not discussing mask exemptions. Rather, it’s talking about how to supply kids with more masks. The school district is working with a donor to acquire 20,000-30,000 to give out at its schools. It’s also talking about which masks are best.

“[Masks] that are high filtration - N95s, KN95s, KN94s - are going to be the ones that are most successful with preventing the spread but also protecting the person who’s wearing it,” Ryan McKay with the Blue Ridge Health District told the board.

In the end, Madison County School Board members did approve the mask exemption policy, effective beginning next week. To read more about it, click here.

One of the reasons it was brought up for a vote is because it expects state law to change once Governor-elect Glenn Youngkin takes office.

“I think we violate parental rights and authority each day we continue this universal masking mandate without any exception [or] option for parents,” said Christopher Wingate, a board member.

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