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Stafford School Board to consider removing mask requirement for "non-school" buildings
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Stafford School Board to consider removing mask requirement for "non-school" buildings

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The Stafford School Board is scheduled to vote on whether to remove a mask requirement for “non-school employees in non-school buildings” at its first meeting of the year Tuesday evening.

The board will seat three new members, at least one of whom—Hartwood District representative Alyssa Halstead, has stated an opposition to mask mandates. The other two new members are Garrisonville representative Maureen Siegmund and Aquia representative Maya Guy.

The request to remove the mask requirement was on the agenda for action at the December meeting, but the board approved moving it to January.

Usually, the Stafford School Board schedules agenda items for discussion and information at one meeting and then for action at the next meeting.

The request to remove the mask requirement was not scheduled for information before being placed on the Dec. 14 agenda for action.

At the Dec. 14 meeting, board members argued over whether to move the agenda item to information or action in January.

As the item has not been presented for information, the board has not received legal advice or clarity on what buildings are considered “non-school” buildings and what “non-employees” would be affected, several board members said.

Then-Garrisonville representative Pamela Yeung said students do enter “non-school” buildings such as the School Board Chambers and the Professional Development Building, and bus drivers leave the transportation building to drive students in school buses.

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“So even though we say that the students are not there, they are there, and it’s not only about students, it’s about staff, it’s about teachers, it’s about keeping everyone safe,” said Yeung, who was elected to the Board of Supervisors in November.

Falmouth representative Sarah Chase supported moving the request to information to “give the public opportunity to weigh in and to hear from the health department,” but Rock Hill representative Patricia Healy—who had the request placed on the agenda along with George Washington representative Susan Randall—said the public would have enough time between the December and January meetings to provide input.

“I will not support moving it to information because then it’s over six weeks from now [before we vote],” Healy said at the Dec. 14 meeting. “This item does not apply where masks are mandated by law or regulation. This is strictly where it’s optional.”

According to an Aug. 12, 2021, public health order, “All individuals aged two and older [are required] to wear masks when indoors at public and private K-12 schools in order to inhibit the spread of the virus, as recommended and described by the CDC.”

Exceptions to the public health order include individuals who are eating, drinking or sleeping; who are exercising or playing a musical instrument; who have trouble breathing or are unconscious or incapacitated; or who have health conditions or disabilities that prohibit wearing a mask.

In addition to the public health order, Virginia Senate Bill 1303 is still in effect through Aug. 1.

The bill requires schools to be open for in-person instruction and 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 Virginia Department of Labor also states that employers must require employees who are not fully vaccinated—and those who are fully vaccinated during times of high community transmission—to wear face coverings.

According to the CDC’s COVID-19 data tracker, Stafford County is experiencing high transmission of the virus, with a positivity rate of 43.8 percent.

Adele Uphaus–Conner:

540/735-1973

auphaus@freelancestar.com

@flsadele

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