State Watch

Virginia school boards sue to block Youngkin order making masks optional

Seven Virginia school boards are suing state Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) in an effort to block his executive order that makes mask-wearing optional in the classroom.

The plaintiffs, led by Fairfax County Public Schools, are requesting an immediate injunction of Youngkin’s executive order, which gives Virginia parents the authority to choose whether their children should wear a face covering in classrooms.

The school boards are arguing that Youngkin’s order violates a section of the state constitution, which says “The supervision of schools in each school division shall be vested in a school board.”

They are also contending that the new governor’s order is in breach of a law former Gov. Ralph Northam (D), Youngkin’s predecessor, signed in March, which says schools in the state should abide by federal health recommendation to the “maximum extent practicable.”

For kindergarten through 12th grade, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends universal indoor masking for all students ages 2 years and older, staff, teachers and visitors, regardless of vaccination status.

The new policy is set to take effect on Monday, according to The Washington Post.

The school boards for Alexandria, Arlington County, Richmond, Fairfax County, Falls Church, Hampton and Prince William County also signed on to the lawsuit. They represent more than 350,000 students in Virginia.

The legal action, filed in the circuit court for the county of Arlington, names Youngkin as the sole defendant.

Youngkin spokesperson Macaulay Porter told The Hill in a statement that the governor’s office is “disappointed that these school boards are acting counter to parent’s rights.”

“The governor and attorney general are in coordination and are committed to aggressively defending parents’ fundamental right to make decisions with regard to their child’s upbringing, education and care, as the legal process plays out,” she added.

In a joint statement on Monday the school boards said the lawsuit “centers on fundamental questions about the framework of public education in Virginia, as set out in the Virginia Constitution and by the General Assembly.”

“Without today’s action, school boards are placed in a legally untenable position — faced with an executive order that is in conflict with the constitution and state law. Today’s action is not politically motivated,” the boards added.

They said the legal action “is not brought out of choice, but out of necessity.”

“With COVID-19 transmission rates high, our hospitals at crisis level, and the continued recommendation of health experts to retain universal mask wearing for the time being, this is simply not the time to remove this critical component of layered health and safety mitigation strategies,” the group said.

“School divisions need to continue to preserve their authority to protect and serve all our students, including our most vulnerable, who need these mitigation measures perhaps more than anyone to be able to continue to access in-person instruction,” it added. 

The executive order lifting Virginia’s school mask mandate was one of 11 directives Youngkin signed on his first day in office. He also banned the teaching of critical race theory.

The school board lawsuit is the second legal action that has been filed against Youngkin’s mask order — a group of Chesapeake parents sued the governor last week, arguing that his order violates a law Northam signed that made masking a requirement for school reopenings.

Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares (R), however, filed court documents with the state Supreme Court last week to dismiss the legal action.

This story was updated at 9:55 a.m.

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