Public schools in Virginia are doubling down on their mask rules in light of a slew of executive orders signed by newly sworn-in Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R), asserting they will “continue to require all individuals to wear masks.”
Over the weekend, Youngkin signed nine executive orders and two executive directives at the Virginia State Capitol, covering a range of topics — from targeting Critical Race Theory to combatting human trafficking. One of the orders, however, specifically empowers parents, allowing them to decide whether or not their child wears a mask in school:
The order reads in part [emphasis added]:
- The State Health Commissioner shall terminate Order of Public Health Emergency Order Ten (2021).
- The parents of any child enrolled in a elementary or secondary school or a school based early childcare and educational program may elect for their children not to be subject to any mask mandate in effect at the child’s school or educational program.
- No parent electing that a mask mandate should not apply to his or her child shall be required to provide a reason or make any certification concerning their child’s health or education.
- A child whose parent has elected that he or she is not subject to a mask mandate should not be required to wear a mask under any policy implemented by a teacher, school, school district, the Department of Education, or any other state authority.
- The Superintendent of Public Instruction shall rescind the Interim Guidance for COVID-19 Prevention in Virginia PreK-12 Schools, issued January 14, 2021, and updated October 14, 2021, and issue new guidance for COVID-19 Prevention consistent with this Order.
- School districts should marshal any resources available to improve inspection, testing, maintenance, repair, replacement and upgrades of equipment to improve the indoor air quality in school facilities, including mechanical and non-mechanical heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems, filtering, purification, fans, control systems and window and door repair.
However, public school systems in the state are doubling down on their masking requirements, making their intentions of ignoring the governor’s direction crystal clear.
Arlington Public Schools, for instance, stated on Saturday it will “continue to require all staff and students to wear masks inside on school grounds and on buses”:
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.Current law in Virginia, per SB1303, says: school divisions need to “provide such in-person instruction in a manner in which it adheres, to the maximum extent practicable, to any currently applicable mitigation strategies for early childhood care and education programs and elementary and secondary schools to reduce the transmission of COVID-19 that have been provided by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”
— Arlington Public Schools (@APSVirginia) January 15, 2022
Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS) followed suit, stating on Sunday 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”:
ACPS 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.https://t.co/VljVfqRzZu
— Alexandria City Public Schools (@ACPSk12) January 16, 2022
So, in Alexandria, VA @ACPSk12 officials are making the mask requirements MORE strict in light of @GlennYoungkin EO. NO exemptions and all kids MUST either wear KN95 masks all day or double mask w/at least one surgical mask. @JasonMiyaresVA @LarryOConnor @heatherhunterdc https://t.co/2AXShMj91q
— Julie Gunlock (@JGunlock) January 16, 2022
Similarly, Fairfax County’s school system made it clear it is also planning to continue to require masks.
“Hi there. Arlington county parent here (don’t believe you are @GlennYoungkin but correct me if I am wrong). Thank you to @APSVirginia for standing up for our kids, teachers and administrators and their safety in the midst of a transmissible variant,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki piled on:
Hi there. Arlington county parent here (don’t believe you are @GlennYoungkin but correct me if I am wrong). Thank you to @APSVirginia for standing up for our kids, teachers and administrators and their safety in the midst of a transmissible variant. https://t.co/6UeNIYoZCU
— Jen Psaki (@jrpsaki) January 17, 2022
The final outcome of the battle over masking in Virginia public schools remains unclear, but Youngkin said the order is designed to give the state’s school systems eight days to prepare for the change and to “listen to parents.”
“And the fact that tweet came out from Arlington County within minutes of my executive order, what that tells me, they haven’t listened to parents yet,” Youngkin said.