masks in schools

Virginia AG Files Motion to Dismiss Lawsuit to Block Governor's Order Lifting School Mask Mandate

Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares filed a motion Thursday to dismiss a petition to block Gov. Glenn Youngkin's executive order ending mask mandates.

“Tonight, we asked the Supreme Court of Virginia to protect the fundamental rights of parents to direct the upbringing, care, and education of their children," Miyares said in a news release.

Virginia's new Republican governor was facing pushback from Democratic lawmakers, school districts and a group of parents who sued him Tuesday over an executive order that aims to create an opt-out for classroom mask mandates.

The order issued Saturday and set to take effect Monday was among Glenn Youngkin's first acts after he was sworn in as Virginia's 74th governor. The move both fulfilled a campaign pledge and inserted Youngkin, a political newcomer working with a divided legislature, into a divisive issue that’s generated legal challenges in other states.

Youngkin’s order said parents of any child in elementary or secondary schools or a school-based early childcare or educational program “may elect for their children not to be subject to any mask mandate.”

In part because of a state law passed last year dealing with classrooms and pandemic policies, school districts in many of the state’s most populous localities have since told parents they planned to keep existing mask mandates in place, at least temporarily.

The 2021 law says each Virginia school board is required to offer in-person instruction that adheres “to the maximum extent practicable” to COVID-19 mitigation guidelines from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC currently recommends universal masking by anyone 2 and older, regardless of vaccination status.

On Tuesday, a group of parents of children in Chesapeake Public Schools sued the governor and members of his administration in the Supreme Court of Virginia, arguing that the executive order violates state law.

Youngkin, who is an advocate of vaccination efforts but campaigned against mask and vaccine mandates, recently said he would “use every resource within the governor’s authority” to ensure parents can choose whether their children wear masks. He also ended a vaccinate-or-test mandate for state workers through an executive order Saturday.

Democrats accused him of overstepping his authority on the mask order, ignoring the state law and attempting to bully local school districts.

But some Republicans have argued that the state law doesn't mandate masks. Among them was state Sen. Siobhan Dunnavant, a physician who helped negotiate the bill, which also mandated in-person instruction. Dunnavant said this week that the law doesn't mandate masks because the CDC does not mandate masks — it only recommends them.

NBCWashington/AP
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