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JUST IN: APS says masks still required for students, despite Youngkin’s order

(Updated at 7:40 p.m.) Students and parents are in the middle of a tug-of-war between Arlington Public Schools and newly-inaugurated Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin.

One of the Republican’s first acts today (Saturday) after succeeding now-former Gov. Ralph Northam (D) was issuing eleven executive actions, including one that allows parents to “elect for their children not to be subject to any mask mandate in effect at the child’s school or educational program.”

The order is set to take effect next Monday, Jan. 24.

Youngkin’s order suggests that mask mandates have been ineffective at preventing the spread of COVID-19 in schools, citing incorrect mask usage and the use of low-quality cloth masks. It further suggests that schools instead focus on air filtration systems and other environmental mitigation measures.

Nonetheless APS, which has had a mask mandate for the entire school year, said tonight that the mandate is still in place on school grounds and on buses.

In a statement, APS said state law requires it to adhere to “any currently applicable mitigation strategies.” It also said that federal law requires masks on public transportation, like school buses.

From APS:

Arlington Public Schools will continue to require all staff and students to wear masks inside on school grounds and on buses, as part of our layered approach to safety. Universal mask use has proven effective in keeping COVID-19 transmission rates low in our schools and ensuring schools remain safe and open.

Arlington Public Schools implemented our mask requirement this school year prior to Governor Northam’s K-12 mask mandate, and we will continue to make decisions that prioritize the health, safety and wellbeing of our students and staff, following the guidance of local and national health professionals. Current law in Virginia, per SB1303, says: school divisions need 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 federal requirement from February 2, 2021, is still in place on all forms of public transportation. Anyone riding a school bus is therefore required to wear a mask when riding on our school buses to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Over the past week there have been just under 1,000 Covid cases identified by Arlington Public Schools — 850 among students, 125 among teachers and staff — according to the school system’s public Covid dashboard. APS has around 27,000 students.

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