Northam says students must mask up

Published 4:01 pm Monday, August 9, 2021

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam issued a statement Thursday, Aug. 5, asking all Virginia school districts to require students to mask up indoors regardless of vaccination status.

While schools were previously free to vote on an optional face covering approach for students this fall, Northam announced new requirements Thursday in response to the delta variant’s rapid growth in the commonwealth, particularly among young and unvaccinated people.

In requesting schools enforce a mask policy, Northam referenced Senate Bill 1303 which requires schools have five days of in-person learning a week available to students in a way that “adheres, to the maximum extent practicable, to any current applicable mitigation strategies … to reduce the transmission of COVID-19 that have been provided by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”

Email newsletter signup

While the governor’s request was not a mandate, Northam hinted schools who do not follow the new recommendations open themselves up to legal action, advising school districts who don’t enforce a mask requirement to have a “frank discussion with their legal counsel.”

While Prince Edward and Buckingham public schools both elected to enforce a mask policy for students before the first day of school, Cumberland County Public Schools (CuCPS) students were slated to begin the school year with masks optional.

In a statement issued Friday, Aug. 6, CuCPS Superintendent Dr. Chip Jones told families after consultation with the school board attorney it was confirmed the school district must comply with Northam’s request.

Students began school Monday, Aug. 9, with masks required for indoor public spaces regardless of vaccination status. A federal mandate already requires all schoolchildren to wear masks on school buses.

“As always, thank you for your patience, flexibility and understanding,” Jones wrote to families Friday.