RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — A group of Virginia parents whose children have disabilities are taking legal action against Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s Executive Order 2 which prevents schools from requiring masks. The parents and their lawyers want the court to issue a permanent injunction lifting the order.
The parents are being represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia, the Washington Lawyers’ Committee, Brown Goldstein & Levy, the disAbility Law Center of Virginia and Arnold & Porter. The ACLU announced the lawsuit in a press release on Tuesday.
The release states that Youngkin’s move to ban mask requirements excludes students with disabilities from public schools by making it unsafe for them to learn there. The parents who filed the lawsuit have children with conditions such as cancer, cystic fibrosis, moderate to severe asthma, Down syndrome, lung conditions and weakened immune systems which can make them more likely to have a severe case of COVID-19.
The ACLU explains that a disabled student’s right to learn and not be excluded or separated unnecessarily is protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.
“Children with serious medical conditions need to feel safe at school. Mask mandates allow them to access the educational services to which they are entitled,” said Colleen Miller, Executive Director of the disAbility Law Center of Virginia.
According to the ACLU, the governor’s executive order prevents Virginia school districts from requiring spread prevention measures for students with disabilities. By not allowing schools to make these protective efforts universal, the ACLU argues that parents are forced to choose between a child’s safety or their education.
“The Executive Order shows a reckless disregard for students with disabilities across Virginia,” said Kaitlin Banner, Deputy Legal Director, Washington Lawyers’ Committee. “The Order prevents schools from taking reasonable steps to make sure their students can go to school and enjoy the same educational experiences as their friends.”
The governor has previously stated that Executive Order 2 is about “empowering parents.” Youngkin’s school COVID-19 mitigation guidelines state that masks may be uncomfortable or impact a child’s emotional state. The guidelines also contend that masking could impact a child’s ability to communicate, perceive emotion or make social connections.
The ACLU lawsuit comes in addition to a lawsuit filed by seven school districts. The Richmond, Alexandria City, Arlington County, Fairfax County, Falls Church City, Hampton City and Prince William County school districts filed a lawsuit arguing that Youngkin’s executive order violates a Virginia law requiring schools to follow CDC guidelines regarding COVID-19. Their suit also states that the order violates a provision of Virginia’s constitution which says “the supervision of schools in each school division shall be vested in a school board.”
The school districts are calling for an immediate injunction to stop the order.
Youngkin is also being sued by a group of parents from Chesapeake who claim Youngkin’s order goes against the state law that calls for each school board to implement guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “to the maximum extent practicable.”