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APS must make masks optional by March 1, will present new policy today

The Arlington School Board at a meeting

Arlington Public Schools will present a new masking policy at a school board meeting tonight (Thursday) in light of a new law that requires masks be optional by March 1.

The school system hasn’t yet outlined how it will change its policy, which currently mandates students wear masks indoors, but the new state law allows parents to opt their children out of mask requirements.

“APS has been reviewing the latest health guidance and planning for when we can safely ease our masks requirements,” spokesperson Andrew Robinson said in a statement. “We will present our plan and revised policy at Thursday’s School Board meeting. We have come far together as a community in maintaining safe, open schools, even during the Omicron spike, and we will continue that work together.”

Arlington Public Schools has continued to require students to wear masks, bucking Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s executive order after a temporary injunction was granted.

The Arlington School Board and six other Northern Virginia school boards sued Youngkin challenging his power to prohibit local mandates and were able to continue requiring masks until the lawsuit was resolved. But Senate Bill 739 makes that suit moot, establishing the order as law.

“This new legislation supersedes the Executive Order, so the injunction in the Arlington case is moot starting March 1,” a spokesperson in the Office of the Attorney General told ARLnow.

The bill ultimately passed the state Senate last week and the House of Delegates Monday before it swiftly made its way to Youngkin for a signature.

And as APS may have to roll back its masking requirement, the school board is also set to vote on whether to pause an in-house Virtual Learning Program (VLP) it debuted this school year for families who preferred keeping their kids home due to the ongoing pandemic.

“VLP families fear that many, faced with an impossible choice, will be forced back into APS facilities,” said the VLP Parent Coalition, which represents families in the program, in a statement. “Immunocompromised children and families will have no choice but to put themselves at risk for COVID-19 infection.”

APS has said that students may continue with virtual instruction through the state’s online learning platform, Virtual Virginia, if they or a family member has a medical condition that complicates going to school every day. APS staff will supplement whatever Virtual Virginia courses don’t cover and will support students during the transfer to their home schools.

But this alternative will likely result in less live, remote instruction for students when they have already experienced learning loss due to the pandemic and to understaffing when the VLP got started, the parent group said.

Jo DeVoe and Matt Blitz contributed to this article.

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