7 Virginia School Boards Sue Gov. Youngkin Over Executive Order Allowing for Optional Masking in Schools

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Posted: Jan 24, 2022 9:30 PM
7 Virginia School Boards Sue Gov. Youngkin Over Executive Order Allowing for Optional Masking in Schools

Source: AP Photo/Lynne Sladky, File

Seven Virginia school boards filed a lawsuit Monday against Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) after he signed an executive order earlier this month allowing parents to choose whether their children wear a mask to school.

The lawsuit was filed in the circuit court for Arlington County and names Youngkin as the lone defendant.

The plaintiffs – Alexandria, Arlington County, Richmond, Fairfax County, Falls Church, Hampton and Prince William County school boards – are asking for an immediate injunction of Youngkin's Jan. 15 order, which gives parents the option to opt-out of school masking requirements for their children.

"At issue is whether locally-elected school boards have the exclusive authority and responsibility conferred upon them by Article VIII, § 7 of the Constitution of Virginia over supervision of the public schools in their respective communities, or whether an executive order can unilaterally override that constitutional authority," the districts said in a joint statement.

"Also at issue is whether a governor can, through executive order, without legislative action by the Virginia General Assembly, reverse a lawfully-adopted statute," the statement continued, referring to Senate Bill 1303, a piece of legislation signed last March by former Gov. Ralph Northam (D) that says school boards in the state should follow COVID mitigation strategies put in place by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to the "maximum extent practicable."

The CDC recommends that all K-12 students over 2 years of age, faculty, staff and visitors wear masks when indoors, regardless of vaccination status. However, the CDC uses an Arizona study claiming that masking children reduces COVID transmission as a basis for its school masking guidance, and that study last month was deemed "profoundly misleading" by David Zweig of The Atlantic. 

The districts, representing more than 350,000 Virginia students, further argued that Youngkin's order violates a section of the state constitution that says "The supervision of schools in each school division shall be vested in a school board."

"This lawsuit is not brought out of choice, but out of necessity," the statement from the districts reads.

Youngkin's office defended the executive order, which goes into effect Monday, with spokesperson Macaulay Porter saying in a statement that the governor is "disappointed that these school boards are acting counter to parent's rights."

"The governor and attorney general are in coordination and are committed to aggressively defending parents' fundamental right to make decisions with regard to their child’s upbringing, education and care, as the legal process plays out," Porter said.

During a Zoom town hall Monday night discussing the lawsuit and the district's mask mandate, Fairfax County superintendent Scott Braband suggested that his district's school mask requirement is necessary to achieve happiness.

"I think about Thomas Jefferson writing the Declaration of Independence: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. And we all want to pursue happiness," Braband said.

Also during the town hall, school administrators touted mask compliance and provided a roadmap for continued compliance but failed to provide a roadmap for ending its mask mandate.

The lawsuit from the school boards is the second filed against Youngkin's new order on masking in schools. 

Last week, a group of parents in Chesapeake County sued the governor, claiming that his order violates a current state law Northam signed into law last year that requires schools to follow CDC guidance.

Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares (R) filed court documents with the state Supreme Court last week to dismiss the Chesapeake parents' lawsuit.