Virginia parents who want to send their kids to school without masks are closer to having that option as a bill to block local mask mandates heads to the the GOP-controlled House of Delegates for a vote.
The school board in Stafford County didn't wait for a new law to make a change and voted Thursday to end its mask mandate.
Parent after parent stepped up to the mic before the vote to tell the board they were in favor of lifting the mandate.
"Let parents decide how to manage risk in their household," parent Kelly Grissom said.
Some parents clapped and gave the board a standing ovation after the vote.
Masks will be optional for Stafford County students beginning Feb. 22.
In Richmond, a measure barring mask mandates statewide won approval from the House Education Committee. The bill's sponsor, a doctor, argued there is little
difference in COVID-19 transmission between school districts that are requiring masks and those that make it optional.
"This bill is our opportunity to put our kids first," Virginia State Sen. Siobhan Dunnavant, R-Henrico, said.
But teachers' organizations and parents have begged lawmakers to leave mask rules in place.
One Reston mom — who has a chronic illness and a child with a disability — broke into tears during her plea.
"If this bill passes you will force tens of thousands of Virginia families like mine to choose between their children’s education and their lives…please consider that," Diane Cooper-Gould said.
Organizations representing school boards and superintendents also oppose the measure. Fairfax County Board Chair Jeff McKay said decisions about masks should be left up to local elected leaders who know their communities' needs best.
"I don’t want a bunch of part-time legislators in Richmond who are not accountable to voters of Fairfax County making decisions about what happens in Fairfax County," he said. "And if the legislation is approved, it will become impossible for schools districts
to respond if the pandemic worsens again.
The legislation is expected to pass in the Virginia House next week and then go to Gov. Glenn Youngkin, who plans to sign it and add an emergency clause that would make the new law effective right away.