By Shawn Nowlin
The City of Salem has six public schools and serves approximately 2,500 students annually. When school starts on August 30, school employees and students will be required to wear face masks while riding buses or indoors. Exceptions will be made when people are exercising, eating or outdoors.
Present in each public school will be sanitizer dispensers and handwashing stations. Every school will also recognize a physical distancing requirement of three feet.
Some parents don’t believe masks should be required for students. A plurality of them, however, feel that masks are the best strategy to reduce the spread of the delta variant, the virus that causes COVID-19, and keep everyone safe. Six Salem parents – James Richardson, Daniel Sopp, Debbie Sams, Kelly Bryant, Robin Rose and Tamryn Stephenson – spoke at the school board meeting on August 10, and only one was in favor of the mask mandate.
Said Assistant Superintendent Curtis Hicks, “We are all profoundly disappointed that we’re still sitting here today talking about this. Not a single one of us wants our kids to deal with this. Before state and CDC changed, we were prepared to say that vaccinated students would in some cases have the option.”
Since last week’s school board meeting, Governor Ralph Northam issued a Public Health Emergency Order requiring universal masking in all indoor settings in Virginia’s K-12 schools. Whenever possible, teachers are encouraged to increase instruction time spent outside.
“We all share the same goal of keeping our schools open and our students safe,” he said. “That’s why the General Assembly passed this law with overwhelming bipartisan support. This Public Health Order makes it very clear that masks are required in all indoor K-12 settings, and Virginia expects all schools to comply.”
The delta variant has caused pediatric cases of the coronavirus to increase. Most COVID-19 cases impacting children are a byproduct of the delta variant. Instantaneous protection is provided by wearing a mask. While they do not completely prevent infection, face masks do protect against serious illness or death.
Samira Ragland’s understanding of the delta variant, as she’s done more and more research, has grown significantly in recent weeks. At the start of the month, she had an honest conversation with her three children, all of whom are in elementary school. “I take my cues from the CDC and other health professionals. I understand that some people have skepticism, but at this point, with the evidence being so overwhelming, it’s hard to fathom how someone could argue against the facts,” she said.
Any child under the age of 12 is still not eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine. Regardless of vaccination status, the CDC recommends that everyone in school wear masks. For the most up-to-date information about Salem schools, visit www.salem.k12.va.us.
“Right now, everybody needs to wear a mask in school. We’re going to do our best to keep kids safe, and hopefully things will get better. Masking is critical,” Hicks said.