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Valley schools update mask policies

Published: Aug. 5, 2021 at 4:03 PM EDT
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AUGUSTA COUNTY, Va. (WHSV) - With COVID-19 cases rising across the country and throughout the Shenandoah Valley, local school officials are updating mask guidance for the classroom.

Both Staunton and Waynesboro City Schools updated their mask policies Wednesday, August 4.

Staunton City Schools Superintendent Dr. Garett Smith says the school board has monitored cases locally, and they agreed it would be best to have students wear masks.

“We know a lot more than we did 18 months ago. We were kind of poking around in the dark. We didn’t really understand how to interpret the data,” he said.

These changes come after the Virginia Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention changed their masking recommendations. Smith says the most important thing is getting students in the classroom.

“The biggest concern is getting students back in school five days a week,” he said.

Dr. Jeffrey Cassell, Waynesboro City Schools Superintendent, shares similar insight. He says Waynesboro City Schools will reflect national, state and local guidance.

“The CDC has recommended masks for everyone K-12, and our local health department also recommends masks for all students, K-12,” Cassell said. “The school board has followed the recommendations for the VDH and the CDC throughout the pandemic and are continuing to do so.”

Smith says low vaccination rates among students 12-18 played a part in this decision.

“Only about 20-25 percent of those students have taken advantage of the vaccine, and that variable is really weighing on me as we work through this decision making process,” Smith said.

“Now we know that masks are one of our best mitigation strategies, but our top mitigation strategies still are vaccines,” Smith said.

Both superintendents say their schools won’t strictly enforce social distancing.

“We’re doing physical distancing to the extent possible,” Cassell said, stating it depends on the size of the class and classroom.

Smith says the new mask requirement isn’t where his focus lies.

“We have learning loss to address, we have social emotional supports for students who have been out of school for a long time to address. Those are the main priorities,” Smith said.

School is set to start for both school districts on Tuesday, August 10.

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