Accomack School Board takes no action on mask mandates

February 16, 2022

By Linda Cicoira

The Accomack School board took no action on the inevitable rescinding of mandating mask wearing by students Tuesday night.

Parents continued to press the school board during the public comment period of the meeting. One asked what would be done now that the Governor has asked for an emergency order that would allow parents to immediately decide whether their children will wear masks at school.

The officials did not respond to the question.  The Board previously voted 8-1 to require masks and students have been suspended for not doing so.

Later in the session, Superintendent Chris Holland discussed proms and mentioned outdoor grand marches with masks.  Proms for Arcadia and Nandua High Schools were not held last year at the schools due to the pandemic.  Instead other locations were found by parents who spearheaded the proms and after-parties and raised money for the festivities.

Arrangements will be made for proms to be held at the schools, Holland said. Those would have outdoor red-carpet grand marches as the students arrive.

Holland reported that 13 students and two staff members tested positive for COVID in recent days.  “We’re in a situation where kids are still getting sick,” he said.

The School Board unanimously approved its nearly $69 million fiscal 2023 budget, which will be presented to the Accomack County Board of Supervisors Wednesday evening.

A hot topic among board members was the school calendar.  Holland had extended the school year without the consent of the Board.  The issue came to the panel for an after-the-fact vote and ended in a 6-3 approval.  The vote was taken by a show of hands, so the way members voted was not available to those listening to the live-feed broadcast. Those questioning the action were Members Janet Turner of Accomac, Edward Taylor of Assawoman, and Jesse Speidel of Chincoteague.

With virtual and snow days still available on the calendar, Holland extended the current school year until June 10. The action was posted on the division’s website but not mentioned to the Board during two previous meetings.  Chairman Ronnie Holden said  historically the Superintendent would make changes.  Janet Turner said that it was not “proper” according to the division policy.

“Due to inclement weather, changes in the 2021-2022 school calendars need to be revised.” Holland wrote in a memo to school employees. “The first semester exams were changed to Monday, Jan. 24 and Tuesday Jan 25. The Teacher Work Day  and the Staff Development day were moved up one day to Wednesday, Jan. 26 and Thursday Jan.27. Therefore these changes automatically moved the start date for the third nine weeks, and second semester to Friday , Jan. 28, which also affected the remaining days in the school calendar for interim reports, report cards, and the last day of school.”  There were reportedly seven virtual days and 3.5 snow days left in the calendar when the administrative decision was made.

Taylor asked if the days had been given back in the past if not needed.  Holland said no, adding that he would consider that this year.  The Superintendent  repeatedly said there were still five months of school left and weather could not be predicted. Jesse Speidel wanted to know why they couldn’t wait until snow days were used up to decide.

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