White House press secretary Jen Psaki weighed into Virginia’s debate over school mask mandates on Sunday after newly sworn-in Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) criticized a school district that pledged to flout his bid to make masking optional.
Youngkin’s executive order allows parents to opt their children out of any mask mandates at schools. Responding to Arlington Public Schools saying masks would still be required in schools and on buses, Youngkin accused the district of failing to listen to “parents.”
“The fact that that tweet came out from Arlington County within minutes of my executive order, what that tells me is they haven’t listened to parents yet,” Youngkin told a reporter, adding that he would look into enforcement measures this week.
In a tweet Sunday evening, Psaki responded to the governor, who made defending the voice of parents in education a cornerstone of his campaign.
“Hi there. Arlington county parent here (don’t believe you are @GlennYoungkin but correct me if I am wrong),” Psaki wrote. “Thank you to @APSVirginia for standing up for our kids, teachers and administrators and their safety in the midst of a transmissible variant.”
Virginia House Del. Patrick Hope (D) questioned the legality of Youngkin’s order in an interview with WTOP over the weekend, arguing that state code compels schools to follow guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which recommends mask wearing.
“The governor has no authority to exercise any control over Arlington Public School systems, or any other school system, on this matter,” he said. “The governor’s executive order has no authority at all.”
During last year’s campaign, Youngkin seized on comments from his Democratic opponent, former Gov. Terry McAuliffe, who said, “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.”
Youngkin framed the national debate over critical race theory as a question of “parents’ rights,” positioning himself as a defender of parents having a say in their children’s schools.
“If there’s one thing that hopefully everybody heard in November, is that it is time to listen to parents,” Youngkin said on Sunday.
“So over the course of this week, I hope they will listen to parents,” he said of Arlington Public Schools, “because we will use every resource within to governor’s authority to explore what we can do and will do in order to make sure parents’ rights are protected.”