By Matt de Simone
Last week at the Botetourt County Public Schools (BCPS) School Board meeting at Lord Botetourt High School in Daleville, the public comments flooded in, once again.
Community members offered their opinions on BCPS’s recent state-ordered mandates regarding students wearing facemasks while attending school.
Other comments opposed Critical Race Theory despite BCPS stating two months ago that CRT is not in the curriculum.
One citizen commented, commending BCPS on how they’ve handled the recent “hot button” issues.
Hours before last month’s meeting, Gov. Ralph Northam issued a Public Health Emergency Order requiring all students in indoor settings to wear a facemask (effective Aug. 12). School Board Chair Anna Weddle emphasized that the state health commissioner ordered the mandate, and the “local school boards have no input.”
Last Thursday, parents and community members continue to air their issues about forcing children to wear masks while in school. A couple of public comments defined the mandate as a form of “child abuse,” claiming that wearing a mask for more than one hour each day may still subject an individual to cross-contamination.
Another comment from a registered nurse, who is the mother of former BCPS students, claimed that the mask mandates placed on children are part of a “political agenda” and a form of “psychological abuse.” The parent pulled her children out of school last year due to the mask mandates.
A woman stated that she’s “disappointed” in how BCPS handled the week-to-week change in mask mandates claiming, “a majority of us want our children to be given the choice of whether to wear a mask or not. Masks do not work—it even states so on the box (of facemasks), so why are they being forced to wear them? Masks on buses in hot weather is physical child abuse.
“Each school board member should drive a bus in the heat to see how it feels,” the woman continued. “If each of you would drive, you wouldn’t have six routes canceled and parents shuffling to get their kids to school the next day. Football stadiums have packed, maskless stadiums, but our children still have to wear a mask. I can go to a restaurant and sit down maskless, but our children still have to wear a mask. Maybe teachers should teach them in restaurants where the virus knows it cannot infect them.”
BCPS recently had to cancel several bus routes due to a shortage of drivers and concerns over the recent uptick in COVID-19 illnesses.
One concerned community member asked for the school board to poll their students about wearing masks. She also asked why fans and students at college football games (eligible for vaccination) are not wearing masks while sitting in the stadiums.
Some of the mentioned stadiums “packed with maskless fans” require attendees to provide proof of vaccination. Virginia Tech announced at the beginning of the month that all Lane Stadium attendees must wear face-coverings regardless of vaccination status in common indoor areas of the stadium like concourses, stairwells, elevators, restrooms, hallways, shops, or other locations.
Another citizen offered statistics.
“You have done absolutely no independent research,” another woman claimed, “361 children in this country have died in 18 months from COVID-19—most, if not all, with prior health conditions. That puts the death rate along the same lines as ‘death by sharp object.’ Did you remove all the scissors in the classrooms last year? I don’t think so.”
Although she didn’t mention the source of her stats, she went on to say she previously submitted questions to the board online about facemasks. The citizen went on to ask about scientific proof that it’s safe to “force” wearing masks in school. She claimed a recent study at the University of Florida showed that masks still pick up bacteria and “dangerous pathogens.”
“Your masks are a Petri dish,” she added.
The final public comment spoke of “government overreach,” stating that what BCPS currently enforces regarding mask mandates “is not enough” and that BCPS is “bowing the knee to government tyranny.”
The citizen added that despite potentially losing government funding, BCPS’s “money is safe. (BCPS) are free to do the right thing. Russell County rejected (enforcing the new mandates). Botetourt can too.”
As of last week, Russell County had a little over 100 fewer cases than Botetourt.
Clarification (9/22): On August 12, Russell County announced they are following the same Public Health Order—complying with most of Virginia’s public and private school system’s currently. The Fincastle Herald apologizes for failing to mention that fact in last week’s publication.
Although citizens made no public comments regarding transgender policies at last week’s BCPS School Board meeting, School Board Chair Anna Weddle closed the public comments hearing by reiterating BCPS’s stance on that specific policy.
Weddle stated that BCPS “did not adopt Virginia Department of Education’s (VDOE) transgender policies” last July. “That will not be on our agenda again. We did not do what Loudoun County did. We are not adopting those model policies.”
Last month, Loudoun County adopted Policy 8040, allowing students to use their chosen name and gender pronouns that reflect their consistently asserted gender identity without any substantiating evidence, regardless of the name and gender recorded in the student’s permanent educational record.
To watch last week’s board meeting in its entirety, visit the archives section at bcps.live.