Surry to lift mask mandate effective March 1

Published 5:15 pm Tuesday, February 22, 2022

Surry County Public Schools will make masks optional for students, effective March 1, in accordance with a new state law that effectively abolishes school mask mandates statewide.

Superintendent Dr. Serbrenia Sims announced the policy change Feb. 17 on the school system’s Facebook page.

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 mask mandate imposed by a public school, 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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Three state Senate Democrats joined with Republicans in supporting the bill, which then passed the Republican-controlled House of Delegates in a 52-48 vote on Feb. 14. At Youngkin’s request, an emergency clause was added allowing the law to take effect immediately rather than on July 1. The provision gives school systems until March 1 to comply.

Eight days prior to Youngkin’s signing the bill into law, Surry’s School Board had voted to approve a plan for making masks optional. But that plan required the county’s COVID-19 transmission to stay below an 8% positivity rate for at least a month before students would be allowed to take their masks off in class.

Surry’s positivity was at 15.28% as of Feb. 16, according to U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data. The CDC continues to recommend universal indoor masking for all students age 2 and up, staff and visitors to K-12 schools regardless of vaccination status.

Per federal law, masks are still required on any form of public transportation, including school buses.

Per the Feb. 8 plan the School Board approved, students would also have been required to stay masked — even if positivity drops below 8% —  in areas where social distancing cannot be maintained, such as hallways, computer labs, indoor student dances, assemblies and graduation ceremonies.

According to Sims, all staff members will still be required to stay masked per Virginia Department of Labor and Industry guidelines. Students are still encouraged, but not required, to wear masks as well.

“We will continue to strongly encourage mask wearing as a key strategy in our efforts to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in our schools and community,” Sims said.