Shots and Masks in Richmond Schools

Why is this man smiling?

by James C. Sherlock

Belt and suspenders?

Vaccinations and masks now are both mandatory in Richmond Public Schools. Vaccinations because the school board ordered it last night. Masks because the Governor ordered it last week.

The vaccination order, though many oppose it, has science behind it. Vaccinations work. For the vaccinated, though, the mask wearing mandate is purely political – and political theater. The mask mandate did not presume vaccination mandates.

Cue the squeaking from the “yeah, but” crowd.

Let’s look a these one at a time.

Vaccinations – Richmond

After a vote last night by the school board, nearly all employees of Richmond Public Schools (RPS) must be vaccinated by Oct. 1.

I wish them godspeed.

This policy, with which I agree, is a major experiment with a very short time horizon, an unknown baseline and an unknown outcome.

The latest RPS website “reopening dashboard” data from August 23 are unchanged still shows 21% vaccination among staff. It has not been updated since at least April 12.  So it appears that the district — thus the school board — has no idea how many staff are affected by the order.

Superintendent Kamras made a presentation that showed that only half of the adult population of Richmond is fully vaccinated. He did not have information on school staff or school contractors.

Medical and religious exemptions with a signature from a doctor or faith leader will be accepted “without question.” The number of those will also prove interesting. Anyone granted an exemption will need to provide proof of a negative COVID test on a weekly basis.

From Superintendent Kamras:

“All RPS employees will be required to submit proof of full vaccination to the Talent Office by October 1, 2021.”

“To assist employees who have not yet been vaccinated, RPS is working with the Virginia Department of Health to hold mobile vaccination events in August and September.”

“Employees who do not meet the October 1 deadline (save for those who are granted an exemption) will be subject to progressive discipline, including loss of employment.”

I get it and support the initiative. So they’re good to go, right?

Not so fast. They did not have the option to vote on masks.

Masks in school – Richmond

“Masks will be required for all students, staff, and visitors at all times regardless of vaccination status.”

It is a state mandate. So students and staff who are vaccinated will need to wear masks anyway. I’m pretty sure that will not encourage more students to get vaccinated.

Pre-vaccine medical guidance on masks

Getting students out of masks is crucial to their ability to learn. From an NIH-sponsored report last summer:

Face masks can prevent the spread of the virus SARS-CoV-2, in particular as this spread can occur from people with no symptoms. However, covering the lower half of the face reduces the ability to communicate, interpret, and mimic the expressions of those with whom we interact. Positive emotions become less recognizable, and negative emotions are amplified. Emotional mimicry, contagion, and emotionality in general are reduced and (thereby) bonding between teachers and learners, group cohesion, and learning – of which emotions are a major driver. The benefits and burdens of face masks in schools should be seriously considered and made obvious and clear to teachers and students. The school’s specific situation must also inform any decision regarding face mask use.

That same NIH article from a year ago — pre-vaccine — wrote that masks properly worn (primary school?) can be effective, but goes on the discuss

  • Physical side effects of masks
  • Face masks impair face recognition and face identification.
  • Face masks impair verbal and non-verbal communication
  • Face masks block emotional signaling between teachers and students

Read especially the last two – parts 5 and 6 of the NIH article.


From the government of the United Kingdom:

Face coverings are no longer advised for pupils, staff and visitors either in classrooms or in communal areas.

No longer advised.

So what, exactly, is the thinking in RPS, with mandated vaccinations for school staff, that those same staff should also wear masks?

Answer from the government of Virginia:

“Northam mandates masks inside all K-12 schools in Virginia this fall, even for the vaccinated.”

Not a word from the Governor or the Health Commissioner about the downsides of wearing masks in school so fully described a year ago by the NIH. No consideration of whether the mask mandate makes sense for staff — or kids — in the presence of a staff vaccine mandate.

That order is thus exposed as a political mandate, not a medical one.