HOPEWELL — Count Hopewell schools among the 11 state public systems that will keep on-campus face-mask policies beyond Jan. 24.
The school system announced on its website Friday that it will "follow our health plan and Virginia law" and maintain the requirement that anyone who comes onto school grounds must wear a mask under most circumstances. Mask-use also will remain required on buses "in accordance with a federal requirement regarding transportation that applies to public schools." Hopewell said it will keep the mask mandate in place until "data suggest it is safe to do so."
"As we enter next week, Hopewell City Public Schools will continue to follow our health plan and Virginia law (Senate Bill 1303) and require masks in our school buildings for students and staff," the system said in a statement. "We will also maintain the need for students to wear masks on buses in accordance with a federal requirement regarding transportation that applies to public schools."
With those words, Hopewell now joins a growing list of Virginia public-school divisions that say they will not adhere to Gov. Glenn Youngkin's executive order giving parents choice to require their children wear masks while in school. Chesterfield said Thursday it, too, would not relax its mask mandate for schools.
Others on that list are the cities of Richmond, Staunton, Waynesboro, Alexandria, Manassas and Fredericksburg; and the counties of Arlington, Prince William and Henrico. Augusta County decided Thursday to keep masks in place for at least the next three weeks.
Youngkin issued the order Jan. 15, the day he was sworn in as Virginia's 74th governor. He said he did so as a way to give parents more of a voice in how their children are educated.
Executive Order 2 lifts the mask mandate statewide Monday, Jan. 24.
For Hopewell, however, the mask requirement is more in line with the spirit of the law, and that is why it will stay.
"While we honor our partnerships with our families and are dedicated to respecting parental choice as it is possible and appropriate, we must have certain requirements in place when it comes to health and safety in the operation of our schools," the website statement reads. "As such, there will be no change to the HCPS Health Plan related to the mask requirement at this time. Students and staff must continue to wear masks to enter our classrooms and board our buses until the health guidance suggests a change or the existing relevant laws change."
In the statement, Hopewell cited legislation passed by the General Assembly last year requiring public-school systems to offer in-person classroom instruction "to the maximum extent practicable, to any currently applicable mitigation strategies" for battling the spread of COVID-19.
"We are extremely hopeful as we analyze improvement trends in our positivity data in Hopewell, and we look forward to revisiting this requirement when data suggest it is safe to do so," the system said in its statement.
Click here to read the full statement.
Bill Atkinson (he/him/his) is daily news coach for USA TODAY's Southeast Region-Unified Central, which includes Virginia, West Virginia and central North Carolina. He is based in Petersburg, Virginia. Reach him at email@example.com.
This article originally appeared on The Progress-Index: Hopewell joins list of Virginia localities defying school mask order