RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) – Just days into his term as the 74th Governor of Virginia, Glenn Youngkin is getting push back on a new executive order allowing parents to opt their child out of school mask mandates.
The executive order was signed in the early hours of his administration, stating, “The parents of any child enrolled in a elementary or secondary school or a school based early childcare and educational program may elect for their children not to be subject to any mask mandate in effect at the child’s school or educational program.”
“If there’s one thing that hopefully everybody heard in November it is time to listen to parents,” Youngkin said while addressing reporters Saturday.
Several local school districts, like Richmond Public Schools, have doubled down on their mandates, saying they will remain in place.
Henrico Schools announced Sunday it will continue mask requirements inside school facilities and on school buses, citing a law that suggests Virginia schools should “provide such in-person instruction in a manner in which it adheres, to the maximum extent practicable, to any currently applicable mitigation strategies for early childhood care and education programs and elementary and secondary schools to reduce the transmission of COVID-19 that have been provided by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”
Henrico leaders say while the school board and administration ‘respect that parents make decisions for their families; however, division leaders must make decisions for the collective safety of nearly 49,000 students and 10,000 employees.’
Currently, CDC guidance recommends universal mask wearing in schools for everyone 2-years-old and up, regardless of vaccination status.
8News legal analyst Russ Stone says the law can be up for interpretation, but an executive order does not supersede it.
“An executive order cannot trump a law,” he said. “The problem we have is – we don’t know exactly what that law says. Because it uses phrases like, ‘to the extent practicable,’ but who decides that?”
He adds if school boards challenge the order, the issue could ultimately be decided in court.
“This could play out in two ways,” he explained. “Say a school district says we are still requiring masks. Governor Youngkin would have to decide whether he wants to take legal action against that school. Or it could come about from a parent. If a particular parent said, ‘You know what, I don’t want my child wearing a mask because the Governor says we don’t have to.’ That parent could try and sue the school. One way or another it’s going to end up in a court somewhere if someone tries to push the issue.”
Stone’s advice is to follow what your local school district tells you to do.
“If a student doesn’t follow what the school board says, the student could get in trouble with that,” he said. “If the school board doesn’t follow what the Governor says, then the Governor will have to decide if he wants to decide them sue, take funding away from them or something from that nature. That will have to be decided in court.”
Henrico dad, Scott Edwards, is in support of parents’ choice.
“I believe I know what’s best for me and my kids,” he told 8News. “If masks are important to me and my family – by all means, my child will wear a mask. If it’s not, though, I should have the ability to say that so that way they can focus on their education versus sitting in class all day wearing a mask.”
Henrico mother of two, Laura Pho, wants the mask mandate to stay.
“As a community and part of a community, I think we need to look out for one another,” she said. “I think it’s part of the common good for our children to remain masked.”
Youngkin said his team will use every resource available to his administration to uphold his executive order. It takes effect Monday, January 24, 2022.