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Virginia Parents Sue State After New Republican Governor Revokes In-School Mask Mandate

— January 18, 2022

Critics of Gov. Glenn Youngkin have pointed out that Virginia’s General Assembly already passed a law instructing schools to adopt policies that would limit the spread of COVID-19.

A group of Virginia parents have filed a lawsuit asking the state Supreme Court to block an executive order issued by Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin which lets public school children decide whether they want to wear masks.

“Petitioners have no adequate remedy at law and no time to spare,” the lawsuit states. “They and their children are likely to suffer irreparable harm and damage if this Court declines to grant immediate relief.”

According to CNN, the lawsuit cites guidance from the federal Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, as well as a recent law passed by Virginia’s General Assembly last year.

That law, notes CNN, instructs local school boards to adopt and enforce in-person schooling policies that reduce the spread of novel coronavirus. In their complaint, the group of Chesapeake parents say that letting children opt out of masking will likely enhance the spread of COVID-19, leading more minors to get infected.

Youngkin’s executive order, says the lawsuit, is in “direct conflict” with Virginia law, and therefore violates the separation of powers clause in the state Constitution.

Children wearing surgical masks during a swine flu outbreak in Mexico. Image via Wikimedia Commons/user:sari huella. (CCA-BY-2.0).

However, the administration has thus far stood by its decision, saying it will defend the “rights” of parents who believe that masks have no public health benefit.

“We will continue to protect parents’ fundamental right to make decisions with regards to their child’s upbringing, education, and care,” Youngkin spokesperson Macaulay Porter said in a statement, declining to answer media when asked how the governor would enforce his order.

CNN notes that Gov. Youngkin, who has been in office for less than a week, has already begun rolling back the policies of his Democratic predecessor.

In response, some state-level Democrats have said that Gov. Youngkin is pursuing a transparent political agenda, building off right-wing rage rather than making common-sense policy.

“I’m disappointed that, you know, right out of the gate we’re focused on culture wars rather than the goals of educating children,” Democratic state Del. Schuyler VanValkenburg said.

Jack Preis, a law professor at the University of Richmond, told The Associated Press that Gov. Youngkin’s executive order may not have a strong legal foundation.

“State law trumps an executive order, no doubt,” Preis said. “If he wants to give parents the right to opt out of mask rules, he needs to change the statute, and that starts with the legislature.”

The Associated Press notes that some Republicans have since claimed that Virginia law does not specifically mandate masks. Sen. Siobhan Dunnavant, for instance, said the law cannot require masks because current Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance does not require masks—rather, it only recommends them.


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