Order to end school mask mandates gets pushback in Virginia

Posted at 4:43 PM, Jan 16, 2022

RICHMOND, Va. — School districts across Virginia were taking stock Sunday of the implications of Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s executive order that seeks to end mask mandates in schools, with some school systems saying they will continue to require masks.

On Saturday, shortly after Youngkin took office as Virginia's 74th governor, he issued nine executive orders, one of which ends the statewide COVID-19 mask mandate in K-12 schools beginning Jan. 24.

In an interview with Fox News Sunday, Youngkin said he will “consider all options” to preserve an opt-out for parents from local school mask mandates amid resistance from some school districts and some Democrats who say state law requires Virginia to follow federal guidance that recommends masks in schools.

Carl Tobias, a law professor of the University of Richmond, told the Richmond Times-Dispatch that any challenge to the governor's order will likely end up in the courts.

“We said all along that we were going to stand up for parents,” Youngkin said in the interview with “Fox News Sunday.”

“In Virginia it is clear under law that parents have a fundamental right to make decisions for their children’s upbringing, their education and their care,” Youngkin said. “And so we are providing parents an opt-out. We’re providing them the ability to make the right decision for their child with regard to their child’s well-being."

“We are going to use all the authority that I have to consider all options to protect that right,” he said.

Some schools systems are pushing back.

Richmond Schools Superintendent Jason Kamras tweeted Saturday afternoon: ”RPS_Schools will maintain its 100% mask mandate for students, staff, and visitors.”

The Times-Dispatch reports that the city of Alexandria’s school system said in a statement Sunday that it “will continue to abide by the health and safety guidelines of the CDC and the Alexandria Health Department and continue to require all individuals to wear masks that cover the nose and mouth in ACPS schools, facilities and buses.”

Fairfax County’s school system said it is reviewing the “operational implications” of Youngkin’s order, but that it also plans to continue to require students and staff to wear masks. Arlington County’s public schools said in a statement Saturday that its mask requirement is unchanged.

Youngkin has said he is vaccinated and got a booster shot, but that he opposes mandates. Another of his executive orders rescinds the COVID vaccination requirement for state workers.

The governor’s order says no parent who opts their child out of a local school mask mandate “shall be required to provide a reason or make any certification concerning their child’s health or education.”