Conservative Chesapeake School Board Reverses Decision to Make Masks Optional


The Chesapeake School Board voted five to one on New Year’s Eve to keep masks mandatory for students — a reversal from a December decision to make masks optional after Christmas break. An announcement from the district cited the COVID-19 surge.

“At this meeting, the School Board proposed and approved an amendment to their previous motion from the December 13, 2021 meeting regarding masks for students. Therefore, masks will continue to be required for all students, staff, and visitors as per the Public Health Order when we return on January 3, 2022. Vaccines and testing for student athletes, however, will remain optional,” Superintendent Jared Cotton wrote.

People from neighboring Virginia Beach also attended the meeting including Virginia Beach School Board Member Laura Hughes, Wavy reporter Brett Hall tweeted. He reported that after outbursts from parents, the board voted to go into a closed session.

When the emergency meeting was announced, board member Christie New Craig criticized the plan on Facebook: “FYI… I WILL NOT attend (I am out of town) and I DO NOT SUPPORT THIS!! MY WORD IS MY WORD! I WILL ALWAYS LEAD FROM THE FRONT! I never thought I would say this but, homeschool, or charter schools because public schools are just government controlled schools… and the money should follow the kids, and parents have no say so… even after 11/2/2021!”

On December 13, New Craig led a push to make masks optional, which passed the board five to one. The board has eight Republican-endorsed members and one Democrat-endorsed member, and has gotten attention for past conservative-leaning votes on masking and transgender policy. New Craig told The Virginia Star she learned about the meeting on the afternoon of December 30, a day before the 4 p.m. New Year’s Eve meeting. She was concerned by the last-minute meeting, which she said could have waited two days until January 2. She also didn’t like the decision to not allow public comment.

“I didn’t support not having public input. I feel like this wasn’t an emergency. They could have waited until maybe Sunday, I would have been back, and then given proper notice and let both sides speak. I know where I stand and it’s out there, I think it should be optional, but I do believe in freedom of speech and I think both sides should have had the opportunity to speak,” she said.

New Craig doesn’t think there was malicious intent in the decision to hold a meeting when she was out of town. She said, “We all get along very well on our board, we certainly don’t agree on this, but we’re very respectful of each other. We’re not mean or malicious toward each other.”

She said that the board was probably reacting primarily to rising COVID-19 case numbers. Virginia Department of Health data shows Chesapeake COVID-19 daily case numbers climbing from around 80 in mid-December to around 460 in the first few days of January. School districts rely on transmission level to make COVID-19 mitigation decisions; at the end of November the district climbed from a “Substantial” rate of transmission to “High.”

New Craig said that even when they voted on December 13 to make masks optional, board members expected a post-holiday COVID-19 case spike.

The board has also received legal threats over the mask-optional decision since Governor Ralph Northam has a school mask mandate in place, which may have motivated a return to the mask mandate. After Governor-elect Glenn Youngkin takes office, she expects the board to revisit its masking policy.

“I hope our governor’s going to come through, and I think he is, and then we still as a board have to decide,” she said. “He’s now leaving it up to the school boards, which, that’s pre-19. That’s the way it should be. We’ll have to see what happens.”

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Eric Burk is a reporter at The Virginia Star and The Star News Network. Email tips to [email protected].





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