'I Recommended Not Responding': VA School Accidentally Responds to Email from Reporter About Mask Mandate

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Posted: Jan 17, 2022 10:45 PM
'I Recommended Not Responding': VA School Accidentally Responds to Email from Reporter About Mask Mandate

Source: AP Photo/Marta Lavandier, File

A communications representative for a Virginia public school system on Monday accidentally responded to a reporter seeking both information used in the decision to continue with its mask requirement, as well as what the district plans to do if Gov. Glenn Youngkin's (R) executive order allowing an opt-out of school mask mandates is followed.

Arlington Public Schools communications director Frank Bellavia, intending to recommend that his colleagues not respond to an email from a Daily Caller reporter, mistakenly replied instead to the reporter, who sought the data used to determine the district's claim that masks are effective in mitigating COVID transmission.

"FYI I recommended not responding to the daily caller. It won't get us anywhere," Bellavia wrote.

In a follow-up email, Bellavia apologized and noted that APS uses guidance and data from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Arlington County Public Health Department for their COVID-19 protocols. The CDC uses an Arizona study, which David Zweig of The Atlantic wrote was "profoundly misleading" in an article last month, to claim that masking children reduces COVID transmission.

This comes after APS announced on Jan. 15 that it will continue with its existing mask mandate, which requires that all staff and students wear face coverings when indoors on school property and when riding school buses. 

The announcement claimed that "Universal mask use has proven effective in keeping COVID-19 transmission rates low in our schools" but failed to include evidence supporting the assertion.

The continuation of the mandate defies an executive order from Youngkin that gives parents an opt-out option for their children on school masking requirements. 

"A child whose parent has elected that he or she is not subject to a mask mandate should not be required to wear a mask under any policy implemented by a teacher, school, school district, the Department of Education, or any other state authority," Youngkin's order states.

As a basis for its mask mandate, APS cited a Virginia law, SB 1303, which states that each school must "provide such in-person instruction in a manner in which it adheres, to the maximum extent practicable, to any currently applicable mitigation strategies for early childhood care and education programs and elementary and secondary schools to reduce the transmission of COVID-19 that have been provided by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention."

APS, however, is not the only school system in Virginia to defy Youngkin's order, with Richmond Public Schools, Fairfax County Public Schools and Alexandria City Public Schools among the other districts in the commonwealth announcing over the weekend that they will maintain mask mandates for students and staff.