Shenandoah County parents react to masking changes

Published: Jan. 21, 2022 at 8:46 PM EST
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SHENANDOAH COUNTY, Va. (WHSV) - On Wednesday the Shenandoah County School Board made the decision to make mask wearing optional in schools beginning on Monday, Jan. 24 in accordance with an executive order from Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin, and parents are divided on whether or not that is a good thing.

Prior to making a decision, the school board conducted a survey of parents early in January in which 57% of parents said they preferred masks to be optional in schools.

“There’s no masking mandates anywhere else except health care facilities. We can walk into Walmart, we can walk into Target, we can walk into anywhere else we want and we don’t have to wear a mask but they’re forcing these littles to wear them at school, so super relieved they decided to make them optional,” said Sara Gimple, a parent of two SCPS students.

Gimple said she hopes the school division will make changes to contact tracing so less students have to quarantine when a student tests positive.

“They’re quarantining whole classes. I know one child who has been quarantined six different times in four months. He’s hardly been at school at all and that’s been super detrimental to his learning and social interaction,” she said.

Gimble said she doesn’t believe there is a need for masks in school because children have a very low risk of contracting a severe case of COVID.

“It’s just not severe for children, there have been more kids in the hospital this year for RSV than there have been for COVID but we don’t mask for RSV, we don’t contact trace for RSV so it’s just time to get kids back to normalcy and get them back to being kids,” she said.

However other parents are concerned about the impact removing masks will have on children with high-risk family members.

“They’re choosing to put our kids at risk, our family personally we have close family that are currently dealing with cancer so they’re putting our family members at more risk so we are very concerned about that,” said Melissa Sorokas, a parent of two SCPS students.

“They’re essentially saying ‘we don’t care, we don’t care that we’re putting you at risk, we don’t care that we’re putting your kids and your family members at risk, we don’t care that we’re putting the community at risk,’” Sorokas said. “It’s become a political opinion matter rather than a matter of science and health and concern for one another.”

Sorokas also worries about the strain removing masks will put on school staff at a time when cases are high and many schools are already understaffed.

“They’re going to have even higher numbers of COVID, and how are the schools even going to be able to stay open. It’s putting staff under more stress and putting staff under more risk as well as the students and families,” she said.

Other parents share Sorokas concern, saying that a mask mandate goes far beyond just protecting children.

“Lifting the mandate for masking doesn’t just affect those who are unmasked it’s now raising the risk levels for all of us and that’s a risk of contracting the virus and risk of schools closing down,” said Katie Freakly, a parent of three SCPS students.

Freakly said it’s unfortunate that a health and safety issue has become so divisive and political.

“This a time where we should be coming together as a community to help each other and I hope that’s what people remember when they make these decisions,” she said.

Shenandoah County Public Schools will continue to require masks for staff and anyone riding a school bus.

SCPS Superintendent Melody Sheppard said quarantine and isolation times for individuals who do not have symptoms are currently 5 days. However, a mask must be worn at all times for an additional 5 days in order for the individual to return to school.

If the student does not wish to wear a mask for the additional 5 days, the full 10-day quarantine or isolation must be completed before returning to school.

“Our goal is to keep students in school and school open, we ask parents, students, and staff to continue to follow our mitigation strategies, such as hand washing and physical distancing to the extent possible, most importantly, we are asking students to stay home if they are sick,” Sheppard told WHSV.

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