Students throughout the district defied the masking policy today, pointing to the governor’s executive order that made the mitigation optional beginning this week, and found themselves segregated from the rest of the student body, and in some cases, dismissed from school.
Gov. Glenn Youngkin signed the executive order on his first day in office, giving parents the option to send their children to school maskless, despite localities’ mask mandates. The order tees up what will likely be a battle fought in courts. Seven school boards—Alexandria, Arlington, Richmond, Falls Church, Fairfax, Hampton, and Prince William—joined to file a lawsuit challenging the executive order, arguing that it violates Senate Bill 1303, enacted during last year’s General Assembly session to codify masking in schools.
The School Board voted last Tuesday to support Superintendent Scott Ziegler continuing the mask requirement.
Last night, Ziegler sent an email to families saying that maskless students would be considered close contacts of individuals who test positive for COVID-19. He said that maskless students would be required to quarantine for 10 days. One mother said that she felt the policy was punishment for not abiding by the mandate.
Megan Rafalski, a mother of a Banneker Elementary School student, said her son tried to enter the school building without his mask this morning, and he was sent to the library instead of to class. Rafalski and other parents asked the principal to allow their children to go to class without masks.
“He said, you either come in and put a mask on, or they need to go home,” Rafalski said. “It was extremely upsetting. … My son was perfectly healthy today, he needs to be in class, that is why he is in school.”
Later, the principal called the Raflski family to share that their son was being clinically dismissed. Rafalski picked her son up after noon. She said the family does not yet know what they will do tomorrow, but that he needs to be in school.
At Smarts Mill Middle School, administrators took a similar approach, dividing unmasked students from the student body. One mother of two, Gloria George, said her family decided that it was best for them to not wear masks.
“We’re not against the people who want to wear the masks … but you cannot separate these kids,” George said. George said that during recess, the student body played outside without masks, but her son was still not permitted to join.
Elsewhere, those opposed to the mask mandate took more abrasive approaches. Outside of Woodgrove High School, students wearing masks were reportedly called “sheep” by parents. Dozens of Woodgrove students were forced to spend the school day in the auditorium if they did put on a mask.
Elicia Brand, one of the organizers of Maskless Monday at more than 30 Loudoun Schools, said that Ziegler’s Sunday email announcing the 10-day quarantine for maskless students was really a threat of suspension. The quarantine period for close contacts or people who test positive for the virus is now five days.
“What this is doing is creating to classes of students. The masked and the unmasked, and you’re pitting them against one another,” Brand said. “It’s not well-thought out.”
When asked if the school division directed principals to segregate students not wearing masks, spokesman Wayde Byard did not answer the question, but referred to the School Board’s vote to support continued masking.
“We are following the same guidelines as always as outlined on the Mask and Mitigation section of our website. The School Board affirmed its support for these guidelines last Tuesday,” Byard said in an email.
Byard later reported that only 100 students in the division defied the mask mandate.