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Face masks now optional for students at Alexandria City Public Schools

Students return to George Washington Middle School (staff photo by Vernon Miles)

Alexandria City Public Schools told students in today’s morning announcements to respect the decisions of their peers who choose to not wear face masks in schools or on buses.

Senate Bill 739 went into effect today, allowing for Virginia parents to elect to opt their children out of mask wearing — reversing course on a rule that has been in effect since the beginning days of the pandemic in 2020.

“I would say 95% (of students) are wearing them,” an Alexandria City High School student told ALXnow. “They said on the announcements to respect people’s decisions.”

ACPS staff are asking that parents consider asking their kids to wear masks in periods of high or substantial transmission. Staff are still required to wear face masks, and the school system will continue to provide KN95 face masks for students and staff upon request.

“To the extent possible, we are asking our families to consider the level of community transmission,” Julie Crawford, ACPS chief of student services and equity, told the Board last week. “We also want to acknowledge that this could be a period of anxiety for our families and our students. We’ve been sharing with them for the last almost two years that maskings help to protect you and protect those around you, and this will be a big transition in our schools.”

Some School Board members were not happy with the legislation.

“We still want you to wear a mask, it’s just we can’t enforce it,” Member Rahman Elnoubi said. “We’re not doing this because we don’t want you to wear a mask anymore. We’re doing this because we have to because we want to abide by the law.”

Board Member Michelle Rief said that the decision to go mask-less is really now up to individual students.

“It almost is also leaving it up to the students in some ways,” Rief said. “I mean, unless their parents are giving them really clear directions on Tuesday.”

In the meantime, the School Board is not backing down in a lawsuit against Governor Glenn Youngkin’s executive order removing face mask mandates in public schools. Shortly after taking office in Jauary, Youngkin issued an executive order removing face mask mandates in public schools. Alexandria, along with Arlington and Fairfax County, defied that order.

The case is still pending in the Arlington Circuit Court.

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