Seven school districts sue to stop Youngkin’s mask-optional order

The seven are joined by 51 other school districts in Virginia that are defying the new governor's controversial order
Mask protests in Loudoun County where masks are still required in schools.

Starting today, a controversial executive order by Virginia’s new governor — Glenn Youngkin — to make masks optional but not required in the Commonwealth’s public schools also faces lawsuits by seven school boards, including the largest, saying his order violates the Old Dominion’s Constitutions.

Fairfax County’s public schools, with more than 180,000 students, says Youngkin’s executive order attempts to countermand Article 8, Section 7 of the Virginia Constitution, which says “the supervision of schools in each school division shall be vested in a school board.” The county also points to a state law passed last summer that requires the Commonwealth’s school district to follow federal health guidelines “to the maximum extent practicable. Federal guidelines follow recommendations by America’s Centers for Disease Control, which calls for masking inside all K-12 schools for those over age 2.

The lawsuit is joined by public schools in Alexandria, Arlington, Falls Church, Hampton City, Prince William County, and Richmond.

Says the school boards in a public statement released Monday:

School divisions need to continue to preserve their authority to protect and serve all students, including our most vulnerable, who need these mitigation measures perhaps more than anyone” to keep attending school in person.

Without today’s action, school boards are placed in a legally untenable position, Today’s action is not politically motivated … the lawsuit is not brought out of choice but out of necessity.

Youngkin’s order is clearly political. In his campaign for governor, he promised to remove mask mandates in public schools and reduce the power of school boards.

His political-oriented actions are aimed at outlawing any mentions of “critical race theory” in schools and his new attorney general is firing Virginia counsels at public universities if they have any connection with the Democratic Party, including highly-regarded Tim Healphy at the University of Virginia, who was also on leave to work for the Jan. 6 Capitol Riot select committee in Congress.

Traditionally, attorneys assigned to state universities are not considered political appointees, but Youngkin, who is holding his first political office, apparently thinks politics should drive everything he does.

Claims Youngkin spokeswoman Macaulay Porter:

We are disappointed that these school boards are ignoring parents’ 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.

At least 58 school boards and/or superintendents have said they will continue to require masks inside their school buildings for students, staff, and visitors.

Fairfax Superintendent Scott Braband said he “is prepared” to remove any students who show up without in his schools. His school board chairman, Clair Stella Pekarsky, says “the issue is about local control. Can we make policies for our school system, or does the governor get to come and do that for us?. The governor is not a part of our local government. We do not work for the governor. He does not tell us what to do.”

Youngkin threatens to withhold state funds to any school board that defies him. The lawsuit filed Monday asks the court to “enjoin Youngkin from taking any actions to enforce his order, including withholding any funding, service, or other resources from any or all of the School Boards.”

Jason Kamras, superintendent of Richmond Public Schools tweeted:

I just can’t fathom the threat of withholding $ from VA divisions like [mine] that are protecting the lives of students and staff with a 4-inch piece of cloth.”

The lawsuit filing adds:

The order forces Virginia schools to face the real and imminent threat of having Covid-19 outbreaks occur at multiple schools, endangering the health of students and staff, and causing those schools at least temporarily to be shut down. It has also created significant uncertainty among students, parents, and guardians.

Pekarsky adds:

Our priority is to keep kids and staff safe and to keep them in school, to keep them learning. We are happy to work with the governor and with anybody who shares that same goal.

Working with this governor may be difficult. He’s a former hedge-fund millionaire who has no idea how state or local governments work or should function. His approach is autocratic, which is contrary to how a democratic society should work. Like the former disgraced, corrupt president he embraced — from a distance — he is popular with hard-core right-wing extremists and the white supremacists/racists that control them.