The Fairfax County Public School system, which is the largest in Virginia and one of the largest in the country, is seeking to do damage control when it comes to masking policies within the district. On Friday, Parents Defending Education circulated a "Principal Briefing" that orders administrators in the district to suspend students for refusing to wear a mask. That same night, the district texted families a link to a "Message from the Superintendent - Maintaining Mask Requirements Within a Caring Culture."
"Tonight, we are aware that some internal communications around our mask regulation - which has been in place since we first returned to classrooms - are being shared out of context," the post, which is addressed "Dear FCPS Community[,]" begins. It's signed by Superintendent Scott S. Brabrand.
Parents Defending Education provided slides of the briefing that includes one slide noting "FCPS Mask Regulation Remains Unchanged," with such a message as this:
Our overarching goal is to work with students and families in a collaborative manner, to keep the focus on teaching and learning while ensuring the safety and security of all students and staff. As a caring culture, we work to inform and educate rather than engage in confrontation.
As Parents Defending Education summarized from the slides, with added emphasis:
- Regarding “Intentional Removal / Refusal to Wear Face Covering,” he said: “Intentional removal of or refusal to wear a face covering during the times face coverings are required by all students will be treated as a violation of the Regulation 2613 (Student Dress Code). This includes indoors on school property and transportation.
- This will result in an “SRR Violation of BSO7 (Dress Code),” and noted: “BSO3 (Refusal to comply with staff requests…) may be used as a secondary infraction code to document refusal despite redirection from staff.” The point has a big “NEW!” graphic beside it.
- The “Response” will be swift with a “1 day OSS,” which means “Out of School Suspension” for students who don’t wear masks.
- The briefing says: “1 day OSS for an infraction using the new SUS-M suspension code (this process will enable staff to monitor data regarding this unique situation and gives students the ability to return the next day to comply with the regulation).” Slide 12: “1 day OSS,” “OSS” means “Out of School Suspension.” “SUSP” is the typical code for a suspension.
Asra Nomani, the vice president of strategy and investigations for Parents Defending Education provided a statement, highlighting the overreach. "Fairfax County Public Schools Superintendent Scott Brabrand is turning school staff into the mask police and punishing children to win a public opinion battle in Virginia that was decided at the ballot box. Parents elected Gov. Glenn Youngkin to office to win back parental rights over issues from what is taught in schools to whether a child wears a mask at school. Mr. Brabrand, who is on his way out as superintendent, is setting up a showdown with Gov. Youngkin--and parents," she said.
The blog post letter from Brabrand in reality actually doubles down on the briefing:
In accordance with state law, our regulation requiring universal masking remains in place until further notice. Students will be required to comply with the requirements of Regulation 2109.2. Face masks are included in the student dress code and failure to comply remains an SR&R violation. Intentional removal of or refusal to wear a face covering during the times face coverings are required by all students will be treated as a violation of Regulation 2613. In addition, per federal guidelines, students must continue to wear masks at all times on school buses or other FCPS transportation.
We are working towards a day when we can begin to roll back these safety measures, including universal masking. But for right now, we must continue to protect and serve all our students, including our most vulnerable. More than anything else, these mitigation measures allow them to safely remain in our schools.
We hope that our community will support each other and work together to find the right time for us to begin to remove some of our layered prevention strategies, but this is not the time. I hope that with that in mind, our students will arrive at school on Tuesday with their masks in place. If not, we will follow the regulation, but we will do so with sensitivity and compassion.
The briefing comes in light of Gov. Glenn Youngkin's (R-VA) first week in office. Within hours of taking office on Saturday, he issued a series of executive orders, including one that "delivers on his Day One promise to empower Virginia parents in their children’s education and upbringing by allowing parents to make decisions on whether their child wears a mask in school."
The governor also spoke of that "fundamental right" of parents during his first address before the General Assembly on Monday.
WATCH: Democrats refuse to applaud when @GovernorVA @GlennYoungkin tells parents they “have a fundamental right, enshrined in law by this General Assembly, to make decisions with regard to your child’s upbringing, education and care. And we will protect and reassert that right." pic.twitter.com/TMTVLkI5U4— Matt Wolking (@MattWolking) January 17, 2022
Youngkin had consistently made it part of his campaign to advocate for parents deciding whether or not their children should wear masks to school.
On Sunday, the day after Youngkin took office, families had also been texted a reminder about the district's masking policy.
Virginians not only elected a Republican governor last November, but Republican Lieutenant Governor Winsome Sears and Attorney General Jason Miyares. Throughout his many media interview this week, Miyares referred to himself as the "new sheriff" in town when it comes to enforcing the law and has assured Virginians that this administration will fulfill campaign promises.
While appearing on "Fox News @ Night," Miyares reminded host Shannon Bream that the Virginia constitution empowers parents with having a fundamental right in their child's education and determining what's best.
On what's to come next out of these fights over mask mandates, Miyares offered that "we already know the General Assembly is meeting, we know there's probably going to be a legislative fix as well. So any school board that thinks it's going to ignore the code of Virginia, well they're going to see me in court, I'll tell you that," he had said.
A lawsuit is already in place. On Thursday, Miyares tweeted that he has asked the Virginia Supreme Court to overturn such a lawsuit.
I've asked the Supreme Court of Virginia to dismiss the lawsuit against Governor Youngkin and Executive Order two, which restores authority to parents to make the best decision for their children.— Jason Miyares (@JasonMiyaresVA) January 21, 2022
With our filing, we again affirm that parents matter. pic.twitter.com/6F3E0TBjmA
Gov. Youngkin's office on Friday also released "Interim Guidance for COVID-19 Prevention in Virginia PreK-12 Schools," with some of those guidelines having been updated.
The guidelines at one point read in part that "There is no medical reason for a vaccinated and/or masked teacher to treat an otherwise healthy unmasked student any differently than a healthy masked student."
The governor's office also provided a statement from Youngkin. "I have said all along that we are going to stand up for parents. Executive Order 2 is not about pro-masks versus anti-mask, it’s about empowering parents. I am confident that the Virginia Supreme Court will rule in the favor of parents, reaffirming the parental rights clearly laid out in the Virginia code § 1-240.1. In the meantime, I urge all parents to listen to their principal, and trust the legal process," he said, also encouraging those with questions to contact helpeducation@governor.