Masks were a hot topic at York County School Board meeting

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

YORK COUNTY – More than a dozen residents have signed up to address the York County School Board at its regular meeting on Monday, January 25.

The meeting, which took place at York Hall, 301 Main Street, was the first opportunity for the public to address the board since the York County School Division (YCSD) announced Jan. 21 that students, faculty and staff would still be required to wear masks in accordance with guidelines 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 executive order making masks optional in schools, which goes into effect Jan. 24.

School board president Laurel M. Garrelts spoke about the YCSD’s decision just after the meeting opened.

“This board has chosen to await state and court guidance regarding Executive Order, SB 1303 and Virginia Code 1-240.1 before making masks optional,” Garrelts said in his opening statement. “This decision is to ensure that we comply with all applicable laws, as is our responsibility.”

Of the 14 people who addressed the council, nine spoke in favor of the governor’s order. Many of them argued that forcing YCSD students to wear masks, fearing it could lead to developmental delays and depression.

Those who spoke in favor of the YCSD’s decision to continue enforcing the guidelines of Senate Bill 1303 argued that masks were a necessary part of maintaining public health, especially for students, teachers and staff as well as for people with immune deficiencies. A mother has spoken passionately about her son’s medical challenges and how necessary universal masking is for him to experience in-person learning with his peers.

Of note, according to the VDH COVID-19 Vaccine Summary, as of January 25, only 23.3% of county residents ages 5-11 are considered fully immunized against COVID-19 and 53% of those 12-17 years old are considered fully vaccinated.

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

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

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Jessica C. Bell