SPOTSYLVANIA, Va. — Eight miles from where a COVID field hospital operates in the parking lot of Mary Washington Hospital, a new conservative majority on the Spotsylvania County School Board voted to make masks optional in public classrooms.
The 4-3 vote rescinded the district’s coronavirus face covering policy, making the decision of whether to wear a mask in class a matter of parental choice.
To much outcry, the vote happened before parents had the opportunity to speak during the school board’s public comment segment.
“It would be a mistake to come back to this space, after our school children and educators are exposed, quarantined, and we would need to close schools and disrupt learning for our students,” board member Nicole Cole said.
“This is a point of dignity for our students,” board Vice-Chair April Gillespie countered. “We will follow the governor’s orders.”
Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin directed public schools in the commonwealth to end mask mandates, the second executive order of his nascent administration.
The tableau in Spotsylvania during Tuesday’s meeting often said more than the words. Masked parents divided themselves from their unmasked peers in the school board meeting hall.
Unmasked mothers wondered aloud if “Spotsylvania is the new Loudoun County,” a nod to culture clashes now a staple of their northern neighbors’ school board meetings.
Current Virginia health data show a 46 percent test positivity rate in Spotsylvania, a figure still near the peak of the pandemic.
“Do you understand what the current rate of transmission in our area is,” Cole asked School Board Chair Kirk Twigg. “What’s your point?” Twigg responded.
“If our kids aren’t wearing masks, this could be a lawsuit waiting to happen for our children with disabilities, who are immunocompromised,” offered board member Lorita C. Daniels.
A motion failed 4-3 to postpone debate on removing the mask mandate, until the Virginia Supreme Court rules on the legality of Mr. Youngkin’s executive order.