RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — A legal challenge from seven Virginia school boards trying to block Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s mask-optional executive order will be heard next week.
The schools boards, the one for Richmond Public Schools among them, filed the lawsuit in Arlington Circuit County the day Youngkin’s order went into effect.
The boards asked the court for an immediate injunction to halt the order, which aims to give parents the option to send their children into the classroom without a mask despite a school district’s policy. The case is slated to be heard in Arlington Circuit Court on Feb. 2 at 1 p.m.
Youngkin said “25 out of our 130 school systems” were defying his order during an appearance on The John Fredericks show on Jan. 24, the day it went into effect and the suit was filed. But a Washington Post analysis found that 69 districts still have mask mandates in place as of Jan. 26.
The seven school boards that filed the suit include Richmond, Alexandria City, Arlington County, Fairfax County, Falls Church City, Hampton City and Prince William County. The seven school districts serve over 350,000 students across the commonwealth.
“Without today’s action, school boards are placed in a legally untenable position — faced with an executive order that is in conflict with the constitution and state law. Today’s action is not politically motivated,” the school boards said in a joint statement when announcing the lawsuit.
The school boards question the legality behind Youngkin’s order in the lawsuit, focusing on a provision in the state Constitution that says “the supervision of schools in each school division shall be vested in a school board” and a state law passed last year that requires districts to offer five days of in-person learning.
The legislation also calls on school boards to follow guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “to the maximum extent practicable.” The CDC recommends universal indoor mask wearing for students ages 2 and older and all other people who enter a K-12 school.
On The John Fredericks Show, Youngkin told parents to follow what their child’s school principals are saying and to “trust the legal process.” In a statement on the lawsuit, Youngkin spokesperson Macaulay Porter said the administration is “disappointed that these school boards are ignoring parents’ rights.”
There is a second legal effort to stop Youngkin’s order in the Supreme Court of Virginia. A group of 13 Chesapeake parents filed a petition asking the justices to rule that the order is unenforceable and grant an immediate injunction, but the court did not take any action before the order kicked in.
Attorney General Jason Miyares asked the Virginia Supreme Court to dismiss the complaint, filing a brief arguing that state law allows parents to make the ultimate decision for their child. The law cited by Miyares states “a parent has a fundamental right to make decisions concerning the upbringing, education, and care of the parent’s child.”
Miyares pointed out in the filing that the Chesapeake School Board voted to remove its mask mandate after Youngkin’s order went into effect. The attorney general also disputed the provision in the bill passed last year that mandates schools to follow CDC guidelines “to the maximum extent.”
“It does not (and could not) require schools unthinkingly to adopt every item on the vast menu of options that exist for warding off COVID-19 in schools, a list starting at social distancing and extending all the way to ‘replacement and upgrades of equipment to improve the indoor air quality in school facilities, including…ventilation, and air conditioning systems, filtering purification, fans, [and] control systems,” Miyares wrote in the filing.
According to the attorney representing the parents, the Supreme Court of Virginia has not indicated when the case may be heard. A spokeswoman for Miyares did not respond to 8News’ request for an interview with the attorney general or answer whether his office has learned when the Supreme Court may take up the case.