RICHMOND, Va. (AP/WAVY) — School districts across Virginia are taking stock of the implications of Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s executive order that seeks to end mask mandates in schools.
On Saturday, shortly after Youngkin took office as Virginia’s 74th governor, he issued nine executive orders. One of the orders ends the statewide COVID-19 mask mandate in K-12 schools beginning Jan. 24.
The order says that there “is no greater priority than the health and welfare of Virginia’s children.” It goes on to say that “parents, not the government, have the fundamental right to make decisions concerning the care of their children.”
It calls mask mandates in schools “ineffective and impractical.”
The reversal comes after Northam’s office said last week that any school board that ends its mask mandate would violate a state law passed last year and could be vulnerable to lawsuits.
In an interview with Fox News Sunday, Youngkin said he will “consider all options” to preserve an opt-out for parents from local school mask mandates.
His order was getting pushback from some school districts and some Democrats who say state law requires Virginia to follow federal guidance that recommends masks in schools.
“In Virginia it is clear under law that parents have a fundamental right to make decisions for their children’s upbringing, their education and their care,” Youngkin added. “And so we are providing parents an opt-out. We’re providing them the ability to make the right decision for their child with regard to their child’s well-being.”
The Virginia Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics on Monday issued a statement urging children to continue to wear masks in schools.
“The Virginia Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics (VA-AAP) strongly recommends that school aged children, regardless of vaccination status, wear a well-fitting face mask while attending school.
“Any successful comprehensive plan to protect children against the Omicron variant and other future variants of COVID-19 includes being up to date on COVID-19 vaccination and consistent wearing of face masks during times of infection surge.
“Face masks remain safe and reliable, and children have demonstrated their ability to wear them effectively. In addition to protecting a child, face mask use significantly reduces the spread of SARS-CoV2 and other respiratory infections, thus keeping schools operational and ensuring children do not miss in person school.”
On Sunday, Virginia Beach City Public Schools (VBCPS) released a statement to families and staff saying that their “existing rules regarding masks will remain in place” as they work to understand “how this order impacts us and how best to comply.”
Isle of Wight and Northampton schools both say their mandates will stay in place for the time being.
Elsewhere in Virginia, several school districts have also made it clear mask mandates are here to stay. At least for now.
In a tweet, the Superintendent of Richmond Public Schools said RPS “will maintain its 100% mask mandate for students, staff, and visitors.”
Mask mandates will also stay in place at northern Virginia schools, including Fairfax and Arlington counties.