Exclusive: Va. Education Secretary: No mask guidance yet, encourages vaccinations as schools set to resume classes


The majority of local school divisions across the state will return to class over the next three weeks, and local School Boards members are scratching their heads, wondering if they should require masks for all students and teachers — including those who have been vaccinated.

As we reported earlier today, the Stafford County School Board will hold an emergency meeting at 7 p.m. Wednesday, August 4 at school division headquarters. That’s when it will decide whether or not to follow a recommendation from county school employees calling for universal masking in all school buildings when classes begin Monday, August 9.

The recommendation, announced yesterday, came on the same day the CDC reversed course on masks and stated that both the unvaccinated and those who have received the shot should wear a face mask.

We spoke with Virginia Education Secretary Atif Qarni today in Manassas. We asked him whether or not the decision to require masks should be left up to local school boards. Yesterday, the Montgomery County, Md. School Board voted to require universal face masks.

“We’ll have an update on that soon,” said Qarni, a former Prince William County school teacher. “The governor hasn’t decided.”

You’ll remember at the end of May, Gov. Ralph Northan dropped a mandatory mask requirement that had been in effect for more than a year, since the early days of the pandemic.

Qarni pushed the importance of getting a coronavirus vaccine, saying it is key to lowering transmission rates of the coronavirus. New cases are rising in Stafford and Prince William counties, with nearly 100 and more than 220 cases, respectively.

It’s estimated that more than half of Stafford County residents are fully vaccinated, and more than 70% of Prince William County residents have received the jab.

In recent days, the Federal Government and the Fairfax County Government have announced forced vaccination requirements for its employee. The entities will mandate workrs either get the shot or face weekly coronavirus testing.

The Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association announced its support for the forced vaccination of healthcare workers in the state.

“We’ve not yet taken a position on it,” said Qarni, when asked if the state is considering forced vaccination for teachers and school staff.

In the meantime, Qarni says his department is working to raise awareness of children’s health with a new “Healthy Back-to-School” campaign, which urges parents to take their children to doctors appointments they have skipped or missed due the pandemic.

“It’s not only about COVID,” he said.

In Manassas, public school classes start Thursday, August 12. In Prince William County, classes begin on Monday, August 23.

In Manassas Park, students in grades 1 through 12 will start back to class on Tuesday, September 8, and kindergartens on Thursday, September 10.

For many students, it’ll be the first time they’ve been back in a classroom five days a week since schools were shuttered at the start of the pandemic in March 2020.

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