By now, you are aware of the significant challenge our school division faces as we are currently caught in the middle of two competing decisions made by elected officials in Richmond. Senate Bill 1303, passed by the Virginia General Assembly and signed into law by Governor Northam in March 2021, and Executive Order 2 signed by Governor Youngkin this past Saturday.
Senate Bill 1303 “requires each school board to provide such in-person instruction in a manner in which it adheres to the maximum extent practicable, to any currently applicable mitigation strategies for early childhood care and education programs and elementary and secondary schools to reduce the transmission of COVID-19 that have been provided by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.” The current CDC guidance for COVID-19 Prevention in K-12 Schools, updated on January 13, 2022, includes a recommendation for “universal indoor masking by all students (ages 2 years and older), staff, teachers, and visitors to K-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status.”
As written, with its direct connection to the currently applicable mitigation strategies recommended by the CDC for universal indoor masking, Senate Bill 1303 conflicts with Executive Order 2, which allows “a child whose parent has elected that he or she is not subject to a mask mandate should not be required to wear a mask under any policy implemented by a teacher, school, school district, the Department of Education, or any other state authority.” Executive Order 2 applies to students, not staff.
Additionally, Executive Order 2 explicitly states, “The Superintendent of Public Instruction shall rescind the Interim Guidance for COVID-19 Prevention in PreK-12 Schools, issued January 14, 2021, and updated October 14, 2021, and issue new guidance for COVID-19 Prevention consistent with this Order.” At this time, no guidance has been issued by the Superintendent of Public Instruction.
If we fail to comply with either the law or the executive order, there are significant legal, liability, and other unforeseen implications for our school division. Our school division is caught between the decisions made by the General Assembly and the Governor, but we will do what we always do - find a way to successfully navigate challenges and remain steadfast in our commitment to maximizing the potential of every learner.
Beginning Monday, January 24, we will continue to comply with the law, Senate Bill 1303. As we have all year, students, staff, and visitors will wear masks indoors. We will also comply with the current Executive Order 2 signed by Governor Youngkin. Parents who decide that they do not want their child to wear a mask in school are asked to complete this simple form. We will honor your decision.
Students will still be required to wear a mask on school buses. Remember, our school buses are governed by a separate order from the CDC.
Our school division expects all students and staff to respect choices made by their fellow students and their families, and each school will set explicit expectations for respectful behavior on this issue. We will not tolerate any bullying or negative behavior toward any student because they choose to wear or not wear a mask.
As our division navigates this current situation, I ask for your patience and understanding. Please know that this issue at both the state and federal level is ever-changing, and our division may need to modify our course with limited notice. As always, I will continue to provide you with any updates via email, on our GCPS app, and through our various social media feeds.
Yours in Service,
Jeremy J. Raley, Ed.D., Superintendent