Opponents of mask mandate in New Kent schools voice displeasure with board’s lack of formal stance
As local school systems welcome back students to in-person learning, New Kent’s School Board is still dealing with the aftereffects of an Aug. 23 decision to require masks for all students and staff in an indoor setting.
Opponents of the requirement returned to Monday evening’s school board meeting, voicing concerns of the issue as well as school leaders not taking a position on the matter.
During public comment period, several individuals addressed New Kent’s school board, questioning their choice without a proper vote.
“This school board did not vote on the topic,” said Tom Miller. “It was said by the superintendent [Brian Nichols] at the last meeting and on social media that the masks were required.
“No decision was made by the school board,” he continued. “We elected a school board, not Dr. Nichols, to make decisions like this. I ask the board to make a choice and motion on the decision to be on the record.”
Miller, as well as others, brought up Senate Bill 1303 that talked about the requirements of returning to in-person learning and mask-wearing in the setting. Others said that the lack of a public comment period at a work session prevented constituents from voicing their opinion on the matter.
Fran Kennedy’s comment said that children wearing masks would have an effect on them health-wise.
“I am concern about masking children,” she said. “Science has become so political and is being used as a tool.
“I am worried about the long-term effects when it comes to education,” Kennedy added. “Kids need to see teacher’s expressions, especially at a young age. It’s sad when a student cannot annunciate or tell the different between a short vowel and a long vowel.”
For other opponents of the mask mandate, comments were lodged that legal action lodged against a school system could not be supported in a lawsuit.
“You have a responsibility to the constituents,” said Mark Daniel. “It is your role to make policy. There is no evidence to support this mandate and masks caused more harm than good.”
“You all have been elected to provide an education,” chimed in Ron Vaught. “You were not elected to usurp parental choices of children. Parents have the full authority to decide if their child should wear a mask or not.”
A letter from Nicholas Smith expressed his displeasure with the current use of masks.
“For the last 18 months we had to tolerate this forced mandate,” the letter read. “There is no evidence to justify forced masking.
“No data exists on why this is in place,” the submission continued. “If you are not here to do what’s best for New Kent County, you should step down. These mandates are wrong.”
As the public comment period wrapped up, Milton Hathaway said that he knows the schools are in a tough place and he stands by their decision.
“You all have to make a decision to make the learning environment safe,” he said, also emphasizing the ongoing issues with racism inside the school. “We cannot be reactionary to decisions, especially of race and racism.
“I had COVID-19 and thought there were going to be days that I was going to die,” Hathaway continued. “There was even a day when I wanted to die.
“I don’t particularly like wearing the mask, but our children need it to be safe,” he concluded.
Nichols addressed the board, providing numbers of the cases in the New Kent School system after the first week.
“We have had 16 positive cases and had 80 in quarantine,” Nichols commented. “Most of our contact tracing indicate that these instances came from either exposure in the cafeteria or in sports.
“It takes a lot of tracing for just one student,” the superintendent continued. “You can have a case where the student had it, then you have to see what bus they were on, and then they could be in another activity such as sports or Chesapeake Governor’s School.”
With the superintendent’s comments completed, the school board did not take a formal vote or stance on the issue, upsetting those opponents in attendance.
In one other matter, Nichols announced that current enrollment in New Kent School’s system is 3,308 students. He added that more students are expected to enroll as families continue to relocate to the county, which is listed as the second fastest growing locality in the state of Virginia according to recently released numbers from the 2020 census.