STATEWIDE — With the start of the school year quickly approaching, the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) and the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) strongly encourage faculty and students who are not considered fully vaccinated against COVID-19 to wear masks when schools start back up this fall.
On Wednesday, July 21, the departments released guidance for preschool through twelfth grade level (PreK-12) schools for the 2021-2022 school year. In the 14-page report the decision on whether to make masks mandatory is left up to the will be left up to the individual school boards.
The VDH public health order mandating all staff and students wear masks is currently in effect until July 25 and it is not anticipated to be extended past that date.
Despite the guidance released by the VDH, it stops short at making mask wearing in preK-12 grade schools a requirement.
The only part of the report that could be regarded as mandatory is when it quotes the Virginia Senate Bill 1303, which was passed during the 2021 legislative session. The bill states that all schools in Virginia are required to make in-person instruction available to all students during the upcoming school year.
The guidance specified that elementary schools should require all students, teachers and staff wear masks while indoors regardless of vaccination status until vaccines become available for children under 12.
Middle and high schools are advised to require those who are not vaccinated or fully vaccinated to wear masks while indoors. The report added even though school divisions already verify that student shot records are up to date, they should consult with legal counsel to determine how best to confirm student and staff COVID-19 vaccinations.
“The science is clear that vaccinations and masks help keep our communities safe from COVID-19,” said Dr. Daniel Carey, the Secretary of Health and Human Resources. “Due to the dedication, expertise, and close partnership of the Virginia Department of Health and the Virginia Department of Education, the Commonwealth’s children and the individuals that help them learn will be protected by proven strategies, without a one-size-fits-all approach.”
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 vaccine. All Virginia residents ages 12 and over are eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.
According to spokespersons for both Williamsburg-James City County Schools and York County School Division, the school administrators are still considering the new VDH guidance and will share more information students’ families when a policy has set closer to the start of the school year.
“Virginia has followed the science throughout this pandemic, and that’s what we continue to do,” said Governor Ralph Northam. “This guidance takes into consideration recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and the American Academy of Pediatrics, and will provide necessary flexibility for school divisions while ensuring a safe, healthy, and world-class learning environment for Virginia’s students.”
To learn more information regarding COVID-19, vaccinations for the disease or to schedule an appointment to receive one, visit the website for Vaccinate Virginia.