'There's some wiggle room' on masks in Virginia schools, political analyst says

Posted at 8:09 PM, Jan 15, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-15 20:35:40-05

RICHMOND, Va. -- A political analyst says there will likely be "some wiggle room" when it comes to one of Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin's executive orders regarding choice for parents about whether their children are required to wear a mask at school.

Youngkin's Executive Order Number Two, which goes into effect Monday, Jan. 24, aims to "empower Virginia parents in their children’s education and upbringing by allowing parents to make decisions on whether their child wears a mask in school."

That reversal comes after former Gov. Ralph Northam and State Health Commissioner Dr. Norm Oliver issued a public health order in August that mandated universal masking in all K-12 schools. Dr. James Lane, the state superintendent at the time, said the order would "ensure uniformity across all school districts and keep students safely in their classrooms -- no matter where they live in Virginia."

But Youngkin points out that conditions have changed since the August public health order was issued. Specifically, vaccinations are now available for children 5 and over and omicron is now the dominant variant. Experts have said omicron causes less severe illness, but that it is at least twice as contagious as delta and at least four times as contagious as the original version of the virus.

"Permitting parents to make decisions on where and when to wear masks permits the Commonwealth’s parents to make the best decision for the circumstances confronting each child. Parents can assess the risks and benefits facing their child, consult their medical providers, and make the best decision for their children based on the most up to date health information available," the order reads. "While parents of some students with conditions that increase the risks of COVID-19 infection might require their children to remained masked during the duration of the school day, other parents may require masks for a more limited duration, if at all."

Dr. Bob Holsworth, a political analyst for WTVR CBS 6, said the decision to require masks will ultimately fall to local school districts.

"[Youngkin] says he's getting rid of all state mask mandates, but local school districts still have the opportunity and the power to put their own in," Holsworth said.

In fact, Holsworth pointed out that almost immediately after the order was issued, Richmond Public Schools Superintendent Jason Kamras posted on Twitter his district would "maintain its 100% mask mandate for students, staff, and visitors."

"I think there's some wiggle room here, because the governor basically admits that he's going to allow the localities to do that," Holsworth explained. "I think a lot of people who voted for him did not know that, perhaps. And then secondly, they said they're going to try to take some action to provide what they said, the schools are going to have to provide some opportunities for the parents who don't want their kids to be wearing masks. But what that is is very unclear right now."

Youngkin's order also urges administrators to improve "inspection, testing, maintenance, repair, replacement and upgrades of equipment to improve the indoor air quality in school facilities, including mechanical and nonmechanical heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems, filtering, purification, fans, control systems and window and door repair."

The governor's order also states that "other mitigation efforts" can take place in coordination with the health department.

"The benefit of mitigation efforts must always be weighed against the cost to children’s overall wellbeing," the order concludes.

What do you think? Should your child's school should stop requiring masks for students?Weigh in on the WTVR CBS 6 Facebook page.

RELATED: Youngkin signs 11 executive actions after being sworn in as Virginia governor