Glenn Youngkin from Virginia, United States via Wikimedia Commons
Several Democrat members of the Virginia State Senate decided that they did not want to be on the wrong side of history, and sided with their Republican colleagues in favor of ending the mask mandate in public schools, finally letting parents make choices that they feel are in the best interest of their children. Although Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin issued an executive order ending mask mandates in schools on his first day in office, the order has faced rejection from several school districts across the state, particularly in Northern Virginia. Seven school divisions (Alexandria, Arlington, Falls Church, Fairfax County, Prince William County, Richmond and Hampton) have responded to Youngkin’s order with lawsuits. Last week, Arlington County Judge Louise M. DiMatteo issued an opinion siding with school divisions against Youngkin, in which she stated “.. the efficacy of the Governor’s school mask policy contained in EO2 does not bear upon whether he has the authority to issue it. The single issue before the Court is whether the Governor, via his emergency powers, can override the decision of the local school board delegated to them under SB 1303. On this pivotal point, the Court concludes that the Governor cannot.” DiMatteo’s opinion signaled that the issue of ending school mask mandates would have to be solved through legislative means, not an executive order. Democrat State Senator Chap Petersen authored the amendment to Senate Bill 739 which both grants parents the right to opt their children out wearing a mask while on school property, and also ensures that students will not face any disciplinary or academic consequences as a result of their parent’s decisions. Petersen’s amendment was passed by a vote of 29 Y – 9 N. Governor Youngkin’s official Twitter account applauded the news from the State Senate, tweeting: “This shows that when we work across the aisle, we put Virginians first. I look forward to signing this bill when it comes to my desk.” Youngkin also noted that several Democrat-led states are taking steps to end universal mask mandates in schools. The passage of this legislation would provide great clarity for students in letting them know that they would not be punished for not wearing masks in schools. Students across Virginia have faced a variety of punishments including exclusion from in-person learning in Fairfax County to the threat of criminal persecution for “trespassing” in Loudoun County.