Expert says ruling on Virginia mask mandates is far from straightforward

Elementary School Student With Mask Goochland .png
Posted at 4:10 PM, Mar 24, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-24 18:15:42-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- A federal judge has ruled that an executive order and new Virginia law allowing parents to opt their children out of classroom COVID-19 mask mandates cannot prevent 12 vulnerable students from seeking a “reasonable modification” that could include a requirement that their classmates wear masks.

Lindsey Dougherty's 10-year-old lives with an immune disorder.

"His body has a misdirected immune response when he comes into contact with strep bacteria," Dougherty said.

The Chesterfield mom is not exactly sure how COVID will affect him, but she does not want to find out.

"Given that he also has asthma and COVID attacks the lungs that is a major concern for us," Dougherty said.

With her concerns front of mind, she joined a lawsuit against the Commonwealth of Virginia with 11 other parents who also have kids with health issues, like lung disease, leukemia and cystic fibrosis.

The lawsuit argues a state law passed by the General Assembly this year barring school systems from requiring universal masking violates the Americans with Disabilities Act.

"I think in public schools, and since my child is protected under ADA, the school system should be allowed to require universal masking in schools during medium to high transmission times," Dougherty said.

While a judge did issue a preliminary injunction in the case, CBS6 political analyst Doctor Bob Holsworth said it's far from straightforward.

"My sense is that the judge tried to find some way of splitting the difference. At the end of the day, I think all he has done is invite more controversy," Holsworth said.

Holsworth said the school systems involved, including Henrico, Chesterfield and Cumberland in our area, will now have to decide what a reasonable accommodation for these students would be.

"What is going to be reasonable and what is going to be unreasonable in terms of an accommodation? The judge said some masking should be reasonable but he didn't say how much and where." Holsworth said.

CBS6 asked Henrico, Chesterfield and Cumberland about the ruling. CBS6 heard back from Henrico who said they are reviewing it and had no comment at this time.

Holsworth wonders what this could mean for other kids who have similar health conditions who were not a part of the lawsuit, like those in Richmond.

"What does Jason Kamras, the superintendent, and what are the parents of these children going to do now?" Holsworth asked.

He predicts the decision they make will become heated, especially, if there are more COVID waves.

Dougherty hopes that Chesterfield will do what she feels is best for her child and others who are immunocompromised.

"I don't think it's too much to ask someone to put something over their face to protect their friends and their community members," Dougherty said.

A spokesperson for Attorney General Jason Miyares' Office said this decision does not change the law in Virginia stating, "it merely allows the ten school districts at issue, in this case, to consider masking in the limited circumstances where there is no other way to comply with federal law."

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