YORK COUNTY — The York County School Division (YCSD) has announced that it will comply with recently-issued state guidance requiring face masks/coverings in all of the Commonwealth’s K-12 public and private schools.
On Thursday, Aug. 12, the Office of the Virginia Health Commissioner issued Order of Public Health Emergency Statewide Requirement to Wear Masks in K-12 Schools. Norman Oliver, M.D., M.A., the Virginia State Health Commissioner, cited data to show that the COVID-19 pandemic is still a public health emergency, and, therefore, masks will be required in all indoor settings in both public and private K-12 schools throughout the Commonwealth.
The data cited in the order states that only 40.3 percent of Virginians 12-15 years old and 51.7 percent 16-17-year-old Virginians are considered fully vaccinated. Children younger that 12 years old are not eligible to receive the vaccination.
After consulting with legal counsel, YCSD was advised that the Health Commissioner’s order superseded that of the school board’s recommendation. In a recorded phone message sent to YCSD stakeholders on Thursday afternoon, it stated that all of the schoolboard members agreed to adhere to the conditions laid out by the Health Commissioner.
As of the publication of this story, Americans ages 12 and over are eligible to receive the two dose Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for COVID-19.
A person is considered fully vaccinated either two weeks following the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine, or two weeks following the second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines. To find or schedule an appoint for a vaccine, visit the website for Vaccinate Virginia.
The news comes in light of the recent spread highly contagious Delta variant. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) COVID Data Tracker, York County joins most of Virginia in the highest category for risk of the disease.
“We know that masking is an effective tool to prevent the spread of COVID-19, particularly among children who are not yet eligible for vaccination,” said Dr. Oliver. “As cases rise in our communities, universal masking and other mitigation measures will ensure our schools continue to be the safest place for Virginia’s children.”
Students, faculty and staff will be able to remove their masks only under the following conditions:
- When eating or drinking
- Exercising or using exercise equipment
- While playing a musical instrument in a manner that a mask would inhibit play as long as they are at least at a six foot distance from other persons
- When an individual is having trouble breathing, unconscious, incapacitated, or unable to remove a mask without assistance
- A person whose disability/at-risk criteria or those assisting such persons as laid out through Individualized Education Plan (IEP) or 504 plan under the Rehabilitative Act, in a manner that it inhibits communication or receiving services as laid out in the aforementioned plans
- When necessary for religious ritual
- When a person’s disability or health condition(s) prohibits wearing masks. In these instances, adaptions will be made for the individual.
Additionally, any person who has a medical condition or a sincerely held religious objection towards wearing a mask in school may seek reasonable accommodations.
In conjunction with the order from the Virginia Health Commissioner, Gov. Ralph Northam issued a statement to reinforce State Law SB 1303, which requires Virginia schools to adhere to disease mitigation strategies as outlined by the CDC.
“I am grateful to Governor Northam and Dr. Oliver for this order,” said State Superintendent Dr. James Lane. “[This] will ensure uniformity across all school districts and keep students safely in their classrooms — no matter where they live in Virginia.”
This news follows an Aug. 4 YCSD school board meeting where members voted to make mask wearing optional for students, staff and faculty. Unlike YCSD, neighboring school district, Williamsburg-James City County Public Schools (WJCC), issued guidance requiring that all entities to wear masks while inside the district’s schools.
On Thursday (Aug. 12) afternoon, YCSD Division Superintendent Victor D. Shandor, Ed.D. and Brett Higginbotham, school board chair, sent an email to stakeholders, further emphasizing the board’s compliance with and support for the Health Commissioner’s order. The email also said that this order will take effect immediately.
The next meeting for the YCSD School Board will take place at York Hall (301 Main St. in Yorktown) on Monday, Aug. 23 at 7 p.m.