Virginia parents can send their children to schools without masks. Governor Glenn Youngkin added an emergency clause to the original mask freedom bill passed by the state legislature, expediting its enactment date by four months, and both the Virginia Senate and House of Delegates voted in favor of the revised version. On February 16, 2022, Governor Youngkin signed the bill that allows parents to choose whether their children wear masks at school.
School districts have until March 1st to comply, and many districts have already ended mask requirements, while others are providing parents with a masking opt out option. The law states that “no parent making such an election shall be required to provide a reason or any certification of the child’s health or education status and no student shall suffer any adverse disciplinary or academic consequences as a result of this parental election.”
Originally published February 9, 2022:
On his first day in office, Governor Glenn Youngkin rescinded the previous governor’s executive order that mandated masks in schools. Governor Youngkin issued a new executive order (EO-2) clearly stating that, “parents may elect for their children not to be subject to any mask mandate in effect at the child’s school.”
Some Virginia school districts, however, are not only enforcing mask mandates, but are suspending or segregating students without masks. Seven school districts – Fairfax County, Alexandria, Arlington, Hampton, Richmond, Prince William County and Falls Church – have sued the governor. In response, parents opposed to masks are suing multiple school districts. The Virginia Supreme Court has already dismissed one lawsuit opposing EO-2, but additional lawsuits continue to appear. As these lawsuits wind their way through the state’s legal system, fed-up parents and state legislators are taking action.
Parents like Independent Women’s Forum President and Fairfax County mother, Carrie Lukas, and Prince William County mother, Merianne Jensen, are fighting back. In a powerful school board meeting speech, Jensen made it clear that she is done with the school district’s blatant political theater. The video of the fantastic speech is wildly popular on social media. Jensen asks her school board, “If masks work, why don’t they?” Lukas gave a similarly passionate speech to her school board saying, “Public health officials know that masks that you require do not work against this variant and have called them useless facial decorations.”
Governor Youngkin’s executive order acknowledges the reasons many parents want mask mandates to end and highlights the futility of masking in schools. It states:
At the same time that a universal masking requirement in schools has provided inconsistent health benefits, the universal requirement has also inflicted notable harm and proven to be impracticable. Masks inhibit the ability of children to communicate, delay language development, and impede the growth of emotional and social skills. Some children report difficulty breathing and discomfort as a result of masks. Masks have also increased feelings of isolation, exacerbating mental health issues, which in many cases pose a greater health risk to children than COVID-19. Two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, mask mandates in schools have proved demoralizing to children facing these and other difficulties.
While the Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends masks, its research has found no statistically significant link between mandatory masking for students and reduced transmission of COVID-19.
As numerous mask-related lawsuits make their way through the Virginia court system, Virginia parents are desperately seeking a definitive end to school district mandates. In response, a growing bipartisan coalition of Virginia state legislators is taking legislative action.
Earlier this week, Virginia Senator Chap Petersen (D-Fairfax City), who is a Fairfax County father, sent a blistering letter to the Fairfax County superintendent in response to the district’s intention to continue forced masking indefinitely. The county inspired the ire of Sen. Petersen by gloating over a temporary injunction blocking parental choice on school masking. The district claimed that the ruling provided, “immediate action to protect the health of the community and also reaffirms the constitutional rights of the school boards.” The county also asserted that masking has been a “critical safety measure.”
Sen. Petersen responded:
No evidence is cited for any of these statements, which are clearly opinions – not facts.
For the past two years, we have seen the lives of our children disrupted and destroyed by a pandemic that posed little, or no, threat to them physically. Too many decisions involving children have been dictated by political expediency. As a parent, I’ve had enough.
After a year, the data on student masking is easily found and it is overwhelming: the forced masking of school children has no correlation with community health.
Senator Petersen subsequently introduced an amendment to an education bill that will allow parents the option to unmask their kids. His amendment passed the Senate on Tuesday with bipartisan support in a 29-19 vote. Ten Democratic state senators voted in favor of making masks optional in schools. Governor Youngkin has expressed his support for the measure. After the bill is approved by both Senate and House, the governor plans to fast-track the bill to becoming law using an emergency clause. If the clause is approved by a majority vote from the legislature, the provision could be in effect in less than two weeks.
“In the last week, we have seen Democrat-led states like Oregon, Connecticut, New Jersey, and Delaware move away from universal mask mandates in schools,” Youngkin said. “I am pleased that there is bipartisan support for doing the same in Virginia.” Even if those Democrat-led states are backing off of mask mandates for political reasons, parents are pleased as well.
Many Virginia parents agree with Sen. Petersen: “Virginians will be wondering (like we did after the reopening of schools) how we ever allowed an unscientific and inhumane policy to last as long as this one did.” These parents are ready for districts to lift mask mandates and the lawsuits to end. Parents want to have the ability to decide whether their child wears masks during the school day. Thankfully, Governor Youngkin and Senator Petersen have paved the way.