Virginia legislature looking to overrule school mask mandates with new bill

by ian

Ian Patrick, FISM News


The Virginia legislative body is currently fast-tracking a bill which aims to give parents the chance to voluntarily opt out of any school mask mandates that would impact their children. Essentially, parents can now decide whether or not their children wear masks in school.

The bill passed the Democrat-controlled Virginia Senate with the help of three Democrats and all Republicans in a 21-17 vote. The bill now moves to the Virginia House of Representatives, where Republican House Speaker Todd Gilbert said he would bring it up to a vote as soon as possible.

The original bill, known in the Senate as SB739, clarifies “in-person instruction” to be defined as “instructional interaction between teachers and students that occurs in person and in real time.It further instructs school boards to allow this in-person instruction to students, ridding schools of the opportunity to force only virtual-instruction.

SB739 was presented in the Senate on Jan. 21 and was later amended to include the provision concerning voluntary masking for students. It also removed any penalties that may have been incurred by the parent or student for their decision.

A parent making such an election shall not be required to provide a reason or any certification of the child’s health or education status. No student shall suffer any adverse disciplinary or academic consequences as a result of this parental election.

The amended version was introduced on Feb. 8 and passed a day later. The bill was originally sponsored by 16 Republicans in the chamber and one Democrat, John Peterson.

The Virginia House of Representatives is Republican-led with a 52-48 majority, so the bill should easily pass through. However, Democrats in that chamber have already been expressing their discontent with the bill.

Democratic Delegate and House Minority Leader Eileen Filler-Corn said the bill “takes away the local school boards’ ability to enforce a local mask requirement when the community spread is high,” according to reporting by WTOP News.

“In cases of an additional surge, I don’t know that this provides any assurance that these children would be taken care of,” she added.

Republican Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin took to Twitter to praise the Senate for passing the bill on Wednesday. He noted the bipartisan effort and condemned schools that enforce mask mandates saying they are “stunningly detached from reality.”

Governor Youngkin had previously signed an executive order banning school mask mandates, but it had been paused by an appeals judge. This bill if passed will bypass the appeals court as it will be passed through the full state legislature.