Northam’s chief of staff responds to DeSteph’s letter opposing fall school opening plan

Senator Bill DeSteph

State Senator Bill DeSteph talks about why he scrapped plans for his “Harvest Farms” community. (Kevin Romm/WAVY-TV.)

RICHMOND, Va. (WAVY) — Virginia Senator Bill DeSteph’s letter to Northam criticizing his statewide “Back to School” plan for the fall received a response on Saturday from Chief of Staff Clark Mercer.

In his letter, DeSteph (R-Virginia Beach) said that as per Article VIII, Section 1 of the Constitution of Virginia, it is up to the General Assembly when it comes to public elementary and secondary education — and not the governor.

“Despite the emergency authority being executed by your office, it is the General Assembly, not the Governor, that is given the power and authority to formulate the policies in our educational system for school boards to apply.”

DeSteph continued, “The Constitution of Virginia does not grant the Governor the power or legal authority to intervene in the schedules of public school districts. The school board in each locality has the authority and is best-suited to make these decisions.”

Chief of Staff Mercer, who is also the governor’s representative, agreed with DeSteph in a response sent to the senator’s office.

“Each district has flexibility to come up with its own plan that they will submit to the Department of Education. What the state has put out is guidance based on CDC guidelines,” said Mercer. “Some districts may want more distance learning, many will want less — we would expect many districts to be at regular capacity when the school year begins.”

DeSteph said in his letter that the governor’s attempt at a fall “Back to School” plan was unconstitutional and overstepping his boundaries of emergency authority.

According to Senator DeSteph, “This is patent misuse of executive privilege at a time of great strife and instability.” He continued, “Virginia does not need abuse of power; we need leadership that balances the health and economic needs of all citizens to ensure the continued well-being of the Commonwealth.”

Read the full letter here.

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