Chris Lange, FISM News
Newly-elected Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin (R) issued additional school safety guidance Friday after eight districts across the Commonwealth defied his executive order that banned mask mandates in schools. His order purposefully gave parents the choice as to whether they want to send their children to school masked.
School officials in Fairfax, Arlington, Prince George, Loudoun Counties, and the City of Alexandria announced their plans to keep mask mandates in place shortly after the new governor signed an inaugural day executive order repealing school-wide mask mandates. Last week, Richmond, Chesterfield and Henrico County districts also advised parents in their districts that their children must be masked in school.
In bucking Youngkin’s order, several school officials pointed to a 2021 Virginia law requiring schools to implement “applicable mitigation strategies” recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; however, the guidance recommends, rather than requires, mask-wearing. A group of Chesapeake parents on Tuesday filed a lawsuit against Youngkin citing the 2021 law and asking the Supreme Court of Virginia to declare the governor’s order void.
“I am confident that the Virginia Supreme Court will rule in the favor of parents,” Youngkin said in a statement following the announcement of the suit before adding, “I urge all parents to listen to their principal, and trust the legal process.”
Henrico County Schools spokesperson Eileen Cox threatened to return students who refuse to wear masks to remote learning, according to the Richmond Times Dispatch. “If the concern cannot be resolved collaboratively through other means, it may be necessary for a student to learn asynchronously outside of the school building,” she said.
Youngkin has said school officials who refuse to comply with the order continue to demonstrate their refusal to listen to parents. “If there is one thing that hopefully everybody heard in November is, it is time to listen to parents,” Youngkin said Sunday while vowing to “use every resource within the governor’s authority to explore what we can do and will do in order to make sure parents’ rights are protected.”
Meanwhile, the Youngkin issued updates to his Executive Order 2 Friday afternoon outlining alternative COVID-19 mitigation strategies that include vaccination, contact tracing, and social distancing, giving schools “practicable flexibility” in determining which strategies to adopt. Youngkin also said he “strongly encourages” test-to-stay programs designed to keep kids in school. The revisions were prompted by some members of the Chesterfield County School Board who said they would like to lift mask requirements but are keeping them in place until further guidance is provided.
“I have said all along that we are going to stand up for parents. Executive Order 2 is not about pro-masks versus anti-mask, it’s about empowering parents,” Youngkin said in a statement Friday.
The mask wars appear to have caught the attention of the Biden administration. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki threw her support behind the Arlington Public School district via Twitter after it gave a Jan. 15 announcement that mask mandates will remain in place:
Hi there. Arlington county parent here (don’t believe you are @GlennYoungkin but correct me if I am wrong). Thank you to @APSVirginia for standing up for our kids, teachers and administrators and their safety in the midst of a transmissible variant. https://t.co/6UeNIYoZCU
— Jen Psaki (@jrpsaki) January 17, 2022
It remains unclear what ramifications school districts will face if they continue to defy the governor’s order.