Fairfax County School Board criticized for 'baffling,' 'anti-science' memo on masking

Fairfax schools said parents, families can opt out of any mask requirement

Parents are sounding off on Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) for recent communication alerting them that their children will still potentially have to wear masks indoors for the 2022-23 academic year pending high CDC COVID-19 community rates.

The memo also noted, however, that parents and legal guardians have rights under the Code of Virginia, allowing parents the choice whether or not to send their kids to school masked.

"FCPS requires all students to wear a face covering when indoors (except while actively eating/drinking) on school property (to include the buildings, school buses and other school provided vehicles) when the CDC COVID-19 Community Level for Fairfax County is high," the email read. "The current level for Fairfax County is medium. The Code of Virginia allows parents/legal guardians to elect for their child not to wear a face covering while on school property."

"In alignment with the Code of Virginia, the parent/legal guardian of any child enrolled in an FCPS school, may elect for such child to not wear a face covering while on school property (to include FCPS buildings)," the fuller document read. "No parent/legal guardian making such an election shall be required to provide a reason or any certification of the child's health or education status and no student shall suffer any adverse disciplinary or academic consequences as a result of this election."  

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The Fairfax County Parents Association called the correspondence "baffling." Others suggested the school district was trying to find any reason to prolong the mask mandates.

Rory Cooper, managing director of Purple Strats and father of three, was among those who argued the mask memo was contradictory.

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FCPS responded to Fox News Digital's request for comment, saying, "Parents/families can opt out of any mask requirement. Nothing has changed since the last school year."

Stephanie Lundquist-Arora, a mother of three, accused FCPS of playing politics earlier this year after her sons were suspended for not wearing face masks to school and violating a dress code. They were among 24 FCPS students suspended Jan. 25 for failing to wear masks. The mother explained at the time that the masks had given her sons headaches and "they didn’t like wearing them." 

A Fairfax County school bus sits in a depot, a day after it was announced the county would begin the school year all online, in Lorton, Virginia, U.S., July 22, 2020.

A Fairfax County school bus sits in a depot, a day after it was announced the county would begin the school year all online, in Lorton, Virginia, U.S., July 22, 2020. (REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)

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She renewed her accusations against the school district following Monday's memo.

"It is unconscionable that Fairfax County School Board members don’t seem to understand that Virginia law applies to all of Virginia, even Fairfax County," Lundquist-Arora told Fox News Digital. "I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. They’ve already defied Executive Order 2 and SB739 when they suspended my sons in January and February 2022 for multiple days on ‘dress code’ violations for not wearing masks." 

The mother highlighted the timing of the FCPS mask requirement and corresponding email. 

"Fairfax County Circuit Court dismissed my lawsuit against the school district for the illegal suspensions because the mask mandate was no longer effective," she continued. "The school principals subsequently denied my requests to expunge my sons’ records of those suspensions – a current stain on their records. FCPS Board members drafted the new mask mandate (detailed in an FCPS email sent on August 15, 2022) on March 3, 2022." 

Parents and community members attend a Loudoun County School Board meeting, just 40 minutes from Fairfax.

Parents and community members attend a Loudoun County School Board meeting, just 40 minutes from Fairfax. (REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein)

Fox News medical contributor Dr. Nicole Saphier sounded off on the FCPS guidance, noting that the mandated mask wearing in schools across the country has led to physical and mental health issues. She suggested a path forward she said would make most scientific sense.

"What we do know is that mask wearing can have consequences, physical and emotional," Saphier told Fox Digital. "Schools need to move towards risk base mitigation measures and stop enforcing universal mandates. Higher risk staff and children and really anyone who wants to should be allowed to wear a facemask, however, no one should be forced to. Another asinine policy kids are dealing with us requiring boosters for college students to return in the fall. There is no place for universal mandates, vaccines and masks, at this point of the pandemic." 

"I could not believe the Fairfax County Public School System’s out of date and out of touch and frankly anti-science email to parents and students on Monday," Elizabeth McCauley of the Virginia Mavens similarly told Fox News Digital. "The usage of the term ‘requires’ in FCPS’s statement is a direct violation of Virginia Governor Youngkin’s Day one in office Executive Order Number 2 which enables parents to opt out of any mask requirement for students in schools in Virginia. Parents have been left discouraged, angered and confused by this fear mongering and charade." 

McCauley noted that the notice to parents came after the CDC released its relaxed COVID-19 guidelines, which will no longer differentiate people who are up-to-date on their vaccinations and those who are not. It also removed several specific recommendations for schools, such as "test to stay" rules that required students exposed to the virus to continue to test negative to remain in school.

"So why in the heck would FCPS even float the idea let alone state ‘required’ of masking of healthy students in all areas of FCPS schools?" McCauley asked. 

Close up of entrance sign for Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Sign located near the 1700 block of Clifton Road in Atlanta, Georgia, on the Emory University campus. Vertical composition.

Close up of entrance sign for Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Sign located near the 1700 block of Clifton Road in Atlanta, Georgia, on the Emory University campus. Vertical composition. (iStock)

"The CDC has begun moving towards risk-based recommendations, yet they are not speaking out when mask and vaccine mandates are still being instituted," Saphier said.

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Bethany Mandel, a children's book author and homeschooling mother of five children, echoed many of her fellow parents' concerns.

"The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results," she told Fox News Digital. "The last three years have shown that our school systems are run by the truly insane. The difference for kids and their families in Virginia is that they have a governor who will stand up for them and common sense. There is no reason in the fall of 2022 to mask children, impacting a fourth school year with unnecessary and ineffective mitigation policies. It’s time for parents and lawmakers to stand up for kids the way Governor Youngkin in Virginia has done." 

Fairfax has been considered the ground zero of many of the battles between parents and schools during the COVID-19 pandemic.