Dozens of Albemarle High School students filed out into the school’s parking lot Tuesday morning for a short walk-out to protest the end of mask mandates.
Tuesday marked the first day that a new state law went into effect that strips local school boards of their authority to set mask policies. Albemarle and Charlottesville school divisions have required masks inside school buildings since summer 2020 — a measure that officials have said helped to limit the virus’ spread.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers Charlottesville and Albemarle County to be high risk areas for COVID-19 based on case counts in the last week and strain on hospitals. Those in high risk areas should continue to wear a mask while indoors at public settings, the CDC has recommended.
The state law, which Gov. Glenn Youngkin attached an emergency clause to and signed last month, lets parents opt out of any mask requirement if their child is enrolled in a public school or school-based early childhood program.
That change has concerned some parents of students with disabilities, whose children are at-risk of severe illness from COVID. A group of parents and legal groups are challenging the law in federal court.
Others in the Charlottesville area have encouraged parents to choose to continue with masking, pointing in part to the fact the children under 5 years old are not yet eligible for the vaccine. School-based early childhood programs are open to 3 and 4-year-olds.
Holding signs that encouraged people to “protect the vulnerable” and to “wear a mask,” the students gathered in the bus parking lot for 15 minutes. Teachers from the school stood watch and closed off entrances to the parking lot.
Morgan Bizier, a senior at Albemarle High School, said the walkout was a way for students to voice their concerns with the policy.
“We were upset with the fact that we had really no agency in this decision, and that it felt like we were being placed in danger in a very life and death situation that is COVID, because it’s a really dangerous disease,” said Bizier, who has family members with severe asthma. “We wanted to actually speak up and do something about it instead of just taking it passively.”
Bizier said the walkout went well and attracted more students than initially thought.
“I do think that it was successful, and that I felt like we got our voices out,” Bizier said.
Officials with both school systems said they didn’t receive any reports about issues in the schools over the policy change.