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Masks Were Hot Topic at York County School Board Meeting

York County School Board Chair Laurel M. Garrelts speaking at the meeting on Jan. 24. (WYDaily/Ben Mackin)

YORK COUNTY — More than a dozen residents signed up to address the York County School Board during its regular meeting on Monday, Jan. 25.

The meeting, which took place at York Hall, 301 Main St., was the first opportunity for the public to address the Board since York County School Division (YCSD) announced on Jan. 21 that students, faculty and staff would still be required to wear masks in accordance with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as well as the Virginia Health Department (VDH).

The decision was made despite Gov. Glenn Younkin’s Executive Order Number 2, an order that make masks optional in schools, going into effect on Jan. 24.

School Board Chair Laurel M. Garrelts addressed YCSD’s decision right after calling the meeting to order.

“This board has chosen to await guidance from the state and the courts regarding the executive order, SB 1303 and Code of Virginia 1-240.1 before making masks optional,” Garrelts said in her opening statement. “This move is to make sure we are following all applicable laws, as is our responsibility.”

Of the fourteen people to address the board, nine of them spoke in support of the Governor’s order. Many of them maintained that forcing YCSD students to wear masks, with concerns that this was leading to developmental delays and depression.

Those who spoke in favor the YCSD’s decision to continue to enforce guidance under Senate Bill 1303 argued that masks were a necessary part of maintaining public health, particularly for students, teachers and staff as well as those who with immune deficiencies. One mother spoke passionately about her one son’s medical challenges and relayed how universal masking was necessary for him to be able to attend in-person learning with his peers.

An item of note is that, according to the VDH COVID-19 Vaccine Summary, as of Jan. 25, only 23.3 percent of County residents between the ages of 5-11 years are considered fully vaccinated for COVID-19 and 53 percent of those ages 12-17 are considered fully vaccinated.

YCSD, along with Williamsburg-James City County, Hampton and Norfolk, has decided to maintain the current mask mandate while awaiting further legal guidance.

Meanwhile, Poquoson, Gloucester County, Chesapeake and Virginia Beach have all made masks optional for students in schools.

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