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Virginia Governor’s Anti-mask Decision Fuels Debate

— January 26, 2022

Governor incites school mask wearing debate.

Governor Glenn Youngkin of Virginia, a Republican, issued an executive order late last month letting parents opt out of school mask mandates, allowing their children to attend without covering up.  This decision has led parents to lean on one side of the fence or the other.  Those who have children with disabilities believe that the Governor’s decision allowing attendance without schoolmates wearing masks essentially disallows their own children from attending school.  They believe the choice violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  Seven school boards are also challenging the new order.

Some of the more severe conditions that those with disabilities have that would be impacted by a severe case of COVID-19 might include cancer, cystic fibrosis, asthma, Down syndrome, other lung conditions and weakened immune systems, according to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Virginia, representing this side of the argument for masks, along with the Disability Law Center of Virginia, the Washington Lawyers’ Committee and two private law firms.

“Children with serious medical conditions need to feel safe at school.  Mask mandates allow them to access the educational services to which they are entitled,” said Colleen Miller, executive director of the Disability Law Center.

Virginia Governor's Anti-mask Decision Fuels Debate
Photo by Ketut Subiyanto from Pexels

The lawsuit argues, “Youngkin issued his order despite guidance from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that recommends indoor masking for everyone, ages 2 and older, including students, teachers, staff and visitors, regardless of vaccination status.”  The complaint asks the court for “a permanent injunction lifting the executive order.”

Some districts have opted to go against the non-mandate as well, arguing that a such a decision contradicts a 2021 Virginia law that school districts are required to “offer in-person instruction that adheres to the maximum extent practicable to COVID-19 mitigation measures recommended by the CDC.” Other districts have complied.

For their part, Youngkin and Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares have cited parents have a “fundamental right to make decisions concerning the upbringing, education, and care of their children.”

The Loudoun County School Board believes, “the school board lacks the authority to impose the universal mask mandate, that its mask mandate violates the governor’s executive order and that the board is denying students an in-person education in violation of state law.”

The plaintiffs’ children were at various times sent home or kept home because parents objected.  The board continues to demand students “wear restrictive face masks for up to seven or eight hours a day – imposing physical, psychological, and developmental consequences that could be severe,” the lawsuit alleges.  This side believes that the mandate does more harm than good by forcing mask-wearing.

It continues with the argument that “Virginians are currently free to eat at restaurants, stroll shopping malls, go bowling, watch the NFL playoffs at a local tavern, and engage in innumerable other indoor activities – all without wearing masks.  Yet children in Loudoun County’s public schools remain trapped in 2020-era pandemic policies that are increasingly difficult to justify as we approach the two-year anniversary of COVID-19’s arrival in the United States.”


Virginia Governor’s Mask Order Prompts Dueling Lawsuits

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