FCPS keeps mask mandate, will survey stakeholders

Published 4:37 pm Thursday, February 10, 2022

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There was consensus among members of the Franklin City School Board on Feb. 3 to survey Franklin City Public Schools parents, staff and students to learn their positions on the mask mandate in the schools. This consensus came after a motion to allow parents to choose whether their child is required to wear a mask or not failed 5-2.

The only board members voting for the motion were Ward 6 board member Jerry McCreary, who made the motion, Ward 5 board member Dr. Andrea Shelton, who seconded it.

The issue came before the board because of new Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s executive order that repealed Virginia’s universal K-12 mask mandate and made parents the arbiter of whether or not their child will wear a mask. The order went into effect Jan. 24.

Executive Order No. 2 itself notes it is designed to reaffirm the rights of parents in the upbringing, education and care of their children.

The second directive of the order states, “The parents of any child enrolled in (an) elementary or secondary school or a school-based early child care and educational program may elect for their children not to be subject to any mask mandate in effect at the child’s school or educational program.”

The order has since been the focus of multiple legal challenges and rulings.

On Feb. 7, Virginia’s Supreme Court dismissed a lawsuit by 13 Chesapeake parents that had sought to overturn EO2.

The seven justices’ unanimous decision came on the heels of two other legal challenges to the order and in the wake of widespread defiance among local school boards — including Southampton and Isle of Wight counties and Franklin — that have opted to continue enforcing their mask mandates.

On Feb. 4, an Arlington County Circuit Court found in favor of seven school boards that had contested Youngkin’s authority to use his executive powers to rescind the universal K-12 mask mandate issued last August in the wake of a surge in COVID-19 cases fueled by the highly contagious delta variant.

Though FCPS had already been in defiance of EO2 from Jan. 24 to the Feb. 3 school board meeting, Ward 2 board member and chair Amy L. Phillips released a statement prior to that period, noting that the school division was reviewing the language of the order, was in consultation with local health officials, reviewing CDC guidelines, assessing local COVID data, as well as reviewing applicable state laws to make the best, most informed decision for the health and safety of FCPS staff and students. 

“Until we are able to come to that decision, we will continue to follow the CDC’s mitigation strategies in regard to masks,” she stated. “We will discuss this further at a future board meeting.”

Jerry McCreary

McCreary opened the discussion Feb. 3, noting that he is very much opposed to masks. He cited three reasons for this.

He said the masks children and teachers are wearing are ineffective, pointing to N95 masks and the like as being those that can actually protect against COVID-19.

He also said he believes masks to be unhealthy if people are reusing one mask throughout the day or from day to day.

“And thirdly, I believe they’re demoralizing,” he said. “It’s very hard to communicate when you can’t see people’s faces. There’s a feeling of isolation. I keep hearing, both in conversations and reports, of increased depression and difficulties for children. I’ve read reports that it’s more difficult for young children to learn when they can’t see faces.”

He said he thinks the whole approach with masks, from the beginning, has been political. 

“I think a lot of fear has been instilled into the public through misinformation, and there’s a psychological security associated with masks, I believe, but I don’t think there’s an actual physical safety that’s provided,” he said. “I think we’re doing a disservice to our students, our children, our families and our staff, our teachers and administration. So my position is to allow parents to choose whether their child wears a mask or not.”

He acknowledged that a lot of people have gotten sick, and people have died, but he said he thinks a lot of it has been unnecessary and that there has been a lot of mismanagement.

Carrie Johnson

“I think we’ve given up common sense for government dictates,” he said. “We’ve submitted ourselves to unelected CDC officials, and we need to reclaim liberty.”

He concluded by saying “Our children are going to suffer, I believe, in the long run. We need to teach them better.”

At-large board member Carrie Johnson said she would like to see what FCPS stakeholders prefer before she makes any sort of decision to enact a change.

“I think that you can look for research, and you’ll find it on both sides of the matter, but if I’m going by what the order was from the governor and I look at the clause that he said that said parents should be able to make the decisions — yes, but to an extent,” she said. “Just like we have uniforms at our elementary and our middle school, those (children’s) parents can’t make the decision not to send their child to school in uniform, because that’s something that we have in place as a policy.

“But before we were to make a change, I would like to see what the parents and the teachers and others that are stakeholders have to say about it.”

Andrea Shelton

The next board member to speak was Shelton, who said, “Mr. McCreary made the comment (that) in the long run our children will suffer, but our children are suffering now, and we see that in, unfortunately, 4- to 6-year-olds committing suicide, because that young age group learns by facial expression and group activity, so when you mask them, you’re, like (Mr. McCreary) said, demoralizing how they’re wired as kids. They’re social. So you do instill an unnecessary fear.

“Yes, we do need to look at our stakeholders, but bottom line, the children — what about the children?” she said.

Phillips said she concurred with Johnson.

McCreary made his motion, Shelton seconded it, and when Phillips asked for any further discussion, Ward 1 board member Robert Holt said his only point of discussion was that Virginia School Boards Association lawyers had advised the school board not to pass such a motion pending a court decision that was expected within a week.

“But that decision will be made by one judge in one court, and more than likely, whoever wins or loses, that will be appealed,” he said. “But my guess is by early next week, we will get a ruling on it, and then we can probably go from there while the appeal process is taking place.”

The 5-2 vote happened, and then the board searched for a consensus on whether or not to survey FCPS stakeholders about masks. Holt still said he would like to see what the court decided the following week and go from there.

“And I wholeheartedly agree with you on that,” Phillips said. “I think that if we go ahead and get a survey out to the stakeholders, that, of course, won’t have results back by Monday or Tuesday, but that will allow us time for that court decision to come down in the time frame that we’re sending out the survey, so we’ll have all that coming back to us.”

The board then deliberated on who exactly would be surveyed and came to a consensus.

“So for right now, we’re going to maintain as we are (with the mask mandate),” Phillips said. “But we’re going to get a survey out to our parents, to our staff and to our students that’s accessible for them to determine what their position is on this and what they are wanting to see come out of this. And then we’ll regroup when we get that back and reevaluate which direction to go in.”