“Ms. Ross, why are you segregating us like this?” Chance Harcrow, a freshman at Loudoun Valley High School, asked Principal Susan Ross on Tuesday.
School officials relegated Harcrow and several other students to the Virginia school’s auditorium Tuesday, barring them from attending class and placing them back on online learning for the second consecutive day. The students took their lunch at a different time than their classmates and were not allowed to mingle with their peers outside. Inside the auditorium, students were forced to separate by at least six feet to stay out of “close contact,” Harcrow and his parents told The Daily Wire.
School administrators placed the auditorium students in something similar to in-school suspension after each one refused to wear a mask in violation of the Loudoun County Public Schools (LCPS) universal masking policy. The school board reaffirmed the policy last week in response to a January 15 executive order by newly-elected Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin granting parents the right to opt their child out of any school mask mandate. Youngkin’s order went into effect on Monday.
Parents of students at Loudoun Valley told The Daily Wire that the school has refused to grant their opt-out requests. Parents complained of the administration, particularly Ross, saying she is difficult to reach and offers little information to parents upset over the treatment of their children.
“Every other principal in this county, whether you agree with them or not right now, is at least facing their students and parents. Sue Ross is hiding behind [assistant principals], she’s not speaking to the students, and she’s not speaking to any of the parents,” Harcrow’s mother, Lisa, told The Daily Wire.
Parents attested to the negative impact masks and online learning are having on their children’s mental and physical health and education. The masks caused shortness of breath and headaches. The detention, Harcrow said, was threatening to impact his grades as he could not adequately complete classwork in multiple subjects.
LCPS did not respond to a request for comment. The Daily Wire’s request for comment to Ross also went unanswered.
“So since the mandate is for people to wear masks because of safety, those who don’t want to wear masks – would be what?” Ross prompted Harcrow Tuesday, according to a recording of the conversation obtained by The Daily Wire. “You’re old enough to think that through,” Ross added.
Harcrow pressed, contending that the school’s actions amounted to “actively discriminating and segregating” students who refused to wear masks.
“It’s not discrimination,” Ross responded. “You are making a choice,” she added before reprimanding Harcrow for being “accusational [sic].”
The LCPS board mandated universal masking across the district last summer ahead of the 2021-2022 school year. Earlier that spring and under pressure from lawmakers and parents, then-Governor Ralph Northam signed into law Senate Bill 1303 mandating Virginia schools return to in-person learning. The law was the result of a bipartisan effort to reopen schools after Northam ordered them closed to in-person learning in March 2020.
Data points began surfacing several months into the pandemic suggesting that students on remote learning were falling behind academically while suffering mentally and emotionally. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned in March 2021, a year after school shutdowns began, that virtual learning “might present more risks than in-person instruction related to child and parental mental and emotional health.”
Virginia lawmakers crafted SB 1303 in response to that research and mounting calls from parents to restart in-person learning. Ironically, the bill designed to return students to in-person learning last year is being used by LCPS to keep students who refuse to mask out of the classroom.
The law states that schools must reopen to in-person learning in a manner that “adheres, to the maximum extent practicable, to any currently applicable mitigation strategies … to reduce the transmission of COVID-19 that have been provided by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”
The CDC “recommends universal indoor masking by all students.” LCPS has said that the CDC recommendation and SB 1303 together mean the school district must mandate masks.
SB 1303 “requires school boards to adhere to mitigation procedures, like mask-wearing, to the extent practicable as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). In order to comply with this legislation, masks must be worn by students, staff and visitors in LCPS facilities,” LCPS said in a notice to parents last week.
State Sen. Siobhan Dunnavant (R), one of the authors of the bill, said in a statement last week that some school districts are misrepresenting her legislation to keep mask mandates in place. “SB1303 has been used against our children and against its intent this school year to advance an agenda. SB1303 does not mandate the use of masks in school because the CDC does not mandate masks,” she said.
Ross told the auditorium students Tuesday that what authority the LCPS board falls under “is a good question and to be decided soon, I hope, this week.” Youngkin’s order has been challenged in court by multiple school districts, though not by LCPS. The state Supreme Court is expected to rule whether Youngkin’s order is enforceable or not.
Meanwhile, the LCPS board held a meeting Wednesday night that saw dozens of parents voice frustration over the district’s continued mask mandate and refusal to abide by Youngkin’s order. The board chose to stick with the masking policy despite the pushback.
A female student confined to the auditorium asked Ross, “So, if this doesn’t get decided if we’re not going to wear masks, how do you expect us to learn?”
“So that’s where I was saying choices have consequences, so I hope you’re in Schoology and learning,” Ross answered, referencing Loudoun Valley’s online learning platform.
The students pushed back, asserting that whether to wear a mask or not is their choice, and that their parents have the right to do what is best for their health. Harcrow cited Youngkin’s executive order.
Ross replied, “You are choosing to not follow the rules, then there are consequences for that.”
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