Unmasked Students Face Immediate Suspension from Loudoun County Public Schools

Terri Wu
By Terri Wu
January 30USshare
Unmasked Students Face Immediate Suspension from Loudoun County Public Schools
Unmasked students were kept in the auditorium at Woodgrove High School in Purcellville, Va., on Jan. 24, 2022. (Courtesy of Erin Dunbar)

LOUDOUN COUNTY, Va.—Refusal to wear a mask in school would result in immediate suspension, effective Feb. 2, the first day after the long weekend, Loudoun County Public Schools (LCPS) told unmasked students on Friday afternoon.

In a video The Epoch Times reviewed, William Shipp, principal of Woodgrove High School, spoke at about 3:45 p.m. on Friday to unmasked students kept in the auxiliary gym. “You have all chosen not to wear a mask this week. Essentially, that is just defiant of the rules Loudoun County Public Schools have put up,” said Shipp.

He told the students that they would face immediate suspension starting from the next school day on Feb. 2 if they walked into the school without wearing a mask. And the suspension wouldn’t end until the students would start wearing masks, he added.

In response to a student’s question whether the suspension was legal, Shipp referred to the Loudoun County school board policy and affirmed, “At this point, there is suspension.” He also said there was an appeal process to follow. During the suspension, students can still use Schoology, the virtual learning platform, to continue their studies, according to Shipp.

Caroline and Laura Thomas’s letters from Woodgrove High School were identical except for student ID and other personal information. Any students “who willfully continue to refuse to follow COVID mitigation measures as required by Loudoun County Public Schools will be suspended from school” for “disobedience” and “defiance,” according to the letters.

Clint Thomas, father of Caroline and Laura, questioned the “double standard.” While the LCPS cited the Virginia Department of Health’s (VDH) interim Guidance for COVID-19 Prevention in PreK-12 Schools during Democrat Gov. Ralph Northam’s time, it refused to follow VDH’s updated guidance under Gov. Glenn Youngkin.

VDH’s updated guidance for PreK-12 schools states the roles and responsibilities among parents, schools, and public health institutions. The decision of masking and vaccinating lies with parents.

Clint told The Epoch Times that the reason for the suspension was “not masking” but “defiance.” “He [Principal Shipp] is pushing them to wear a mask, so he doesn’t have to suspend them,” he added.

LCPS is one of the school districts that have decided to keep the mask mandate despite Youngkin’s executive order that gave the masking decision to parents. Virginia has over 130 school districts in total, and about 50 districts made the same decision as Loudoun County.

Unmasked students
Unmasked students took lunch in the auxiliary gym at Woodgrove High School in Purcellville, Va., from Jan. 25 to Jan. 28, 2022. A “no mask area” check-in sheet with a QR code is on the table. (Courtesy of Erin Dunbar)

‘Every Day Felt Like a Prison’

Madison Dunbar, a sophomore at Woodgrove who was also unmasked in school this week, told The Epoch Times it was ridiculous that LCPS made students choose between masking and in-person learning.

Her younger siblings Hailey and Zack attend Harmony Middle School. The letter from Harmony states, “A student who is suspended because of non-compliance with COVID-mitigation measures may return to school only when they agree to follow COVID-mitigation measures throughout the entire school day and at all indoor school-related events. Suspension will continue if COVID-mitigation measures are not followed.”

Kayla, an 11th grader at Woodgrove, also didn’t wear a mask to school. During the week, she repeatedly asked teachers and administrators, “Where is my in-person learning?” According to her, the educators simply referred to Schoology, LCPS’s virtual learning platform.

According to Kayla, Caroline, and Laura, starting from Jan. 25, the unmasked students had to use a back door to exit the school several minutes earlier than the masked students. However, the unmasked students entered the school through the main entrance and walked before the masked students in the morning to go to their separate locations, Kayla added.

She said that she felt that the unmasked students were being hidden and shamed. For example, the auxiliary gym they stayed in from Tuesday to Friday had an uncovered window. “The masked kids would just sit there and take pictures of us, and laugh at us, every day,” she told The Epoch Times.

Caroline Thomas has taken a daily journal of her experience. She also wrote about the separate exit. She noted that though she didn’t get an answer when asked why she had to leave the school in a different exit than masked students, “I’m sure it’s because they didn’t want us to ‘infect’ the rest of the school.”

“Every day felt like a prison. Each day gets crazier and crazier,” she wrote.

Caroline Thomas
Caroline Thomas is on the Woodgrove High School soccer team and the captain of her travel soccer team. (Courtesy of Clint Thomas)

Emma, Kayla’s younger sister and a 9th grader at Woodgrove, told The Epoch Times, “Teachers really didn’t care about our education. They just brushed it under the rug like we didn’t need to learn.”

Kayla’s mother, Joy, who prefers not to disclose the family name, added, “Kayla was having trouble sleeping. She was having trouble eating. The entire week was more stressed out than I have ever seen either of my girls in.

“They [Kayla and Emma] were trying to do the right thing but kind of caught in the middle. They want to follow what they’re told to do but want to hold their ground because they know their freedoms.”

All of the interviewed Woodgrove girls mentioned that on Friday the number of unmasked students reached over 50, an all-week high. According to Erin Dunbar, Hailey and Zack’s mother, the number of unmasked students in Harmony Middle School also reached an all-week high at over 20 on the last day of the week.

In response to an Epoch Times email inquiry about the suspension and VDH’s updated guidance, LCPS spokesperson Wayde Byard wrote that he had no comments.

From The Epoch Times