IWCS to end mask mandate one week earlier

Published 7:09 pm Friday, February 18, 2022

A new state law that effectively abolishes school mask mandates statewide has prompted Isle of Wight County Schools to end its local mandate a week earlier than planned.

Isle of Wight’s School Board voted 4-1 on Feb. 10 to make masks optional for students starting March 1. District 4 board member Renee Dial, a physician assistant, was the sole dissenting vote. The school system has since announced masks will become optional starting Feb. 22.

The law, which Gov. Glenn Youngkin signed on Feb. 16, originated as Senate Bill 739. It allows parents to opt their children out of any school mask mandate, without needing to provide a reason, and prohibits schools from taking disciplinary action against students who choose not to wear masks.

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The March 1 date, according to School Board Chairwoman Denise Tynes, had been to allow students and staff with health issues, or who reside with relatives who may be at greater risk, to “make arrangements” for when the masks start coming off.

Since the board’s vote, “we have resolved many of these matters and have established guidance for families and employees,” said IWCS spokeswoman Lynn Briggs.

According to Briggs, the new mask-optional policy will apply to students and staff alike, though masks will still be required on school buses per federal law. Students and staff are still “strongly encouraged” to continue wearing masks “as a key strategy in our efforts to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in our schools and community,” Briggs said.

Isle of Wight County Schools will also cease contact tracing those who may have been exposed to staff and students who test positive for COVID-19, in accordance with recent Virginia Department of Health guidance, which states the highly contagious omicron variant is “spreading so quickly, it is not possible or fruitful to track every case.”

Isle of Wight County Schools will still require students and staff who test positive for COVID-19 to isolate at home for a minimum of five days from the date of their positive test or the onset of symptoms, whichever occurs first. They will be allowed to return to school on day No. 6 if they have been fever-free for 24 hours without fever-reducing medication, and provided they wear a “well-fitting” mask for five days.

“If students are not able to meet this requirement, we ask parents to have their child finish their quarantine at home,” Briggs said.”We will be looking at each situation that occurs on a case-by-case basis. However, no student will be disciplined for not wearing a mask.”

Students who are currently at home as a result of being identified as a close contact of someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 will be allowed to return, but will not be required to do so, on Feb. 22 provided they are symptom-free.