Parents and Schools Fight Executive Order Banning Mask Mandates

Immediately after the January 15 inauguration of the recently elected Governor of Virginia, Glenn Youngkin, he signed a flurry of executive orders meant to fulfill the promises that were made on the campaign trail. The most controversial of which was the decision to ban mask mandates within Virginia schools. The executive order stated that it should be up to the parents whether their child wears a mask and that mandates “[have] provided inconsistent health benefits”.

The same day, Arlington Public Schools announced their mandate would stay in effect.

“Arlington Public Schools implemented our mask requirement this school year prior to Governor Northam’s K-12 mask mandate, and we will continue to make decisions that prioritize the health, safety and wellbeing of our students and staff, following the guidance of local and national health professionals.”

They may have been the first to announce their defiance of the new Governor’s order, but they certainly weren’t the last. As of February 2, 2022, 70 out of 133 districts are still requiring students and staff to wear masks on school property. These districts make up a large majority of the student population within the state, 68 percent or around 855,000 in total. Locally it’s even more one-sided, out of the 19 Virginia counties in the DC Metro Area, more commonly referred to as NOVA, 12 of them have kept mask mandates. These 12 make up an impressive 89.91 percent of the student body in Northern Virginia.

With these statistics in mind, it’s no surprise that the majority of the school boards that filed a lawsuit against Youngkin are in the region. The plaintiffs in question are Alexandria, Arlington, Fairfax, Falls Church, Hampton, Richmond, and our own Prince William County school board. The lawsuit aims to strike down the Governor’s executive order as unconstitutional; in a statement they said,

“Today’s action is not politically motivated. These seven school divisions would welcome the opportunity to collaborate with the governor to ensure the safety and welfare of all students… This lawsuit is not brought out of choice, but out of necessity.”

So far they seem to have the upper hand; just last Friday, February 4, Judge Louise DiMatte ruled in favor of the school boards’ objections. The Alexandria judge granted a ‘temporary restraining order’ against the ban, saying that Youngkin’s order clashed with a law passed by the Virginia Legislature in 2021 that states that schools must comply with CDC guidelines to the fullest extent possible.

Further resistance to the order came from parents such as the thirteen in Chesapeake that filed a lawsuit before the order even went into effect. And just days ago, parents with disabled children filed their own lawsuit with several organizations representing them, including the ACLU of Virginia. On the issue one legal expert said,

“[It] shows a reckless disregard for students with disabilities across Virginia. The order prevents schools from taking reasonable steps to make sure their students can go to school and enjoy the same educational experiences as their friends.”

Despite the political spectacle, taking a look at Hylton, not much has changed. Walking the halls, you might see a few people with their masks pulled down, rarely do you see someone not wearing one at all. Hopefully, we can all continue to do what’s necessary to help protect those most vulnerable.