Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin signed a bill Wednesday that will end school mask mandates in the state within weeks.
The law gives families the ability to opt out of mask mandates imposed by local school boards starting March 1.
“Today we are restoring power back to parents," the new Republican governor said before a crowd of children outside the state capitol.
With his signature, Youngkin celebrated a sweeping change to COVID mitigation policies statewide.
Whether students should be required to wear masks as the COVID-19 pandemic continues has sparked strong emotions in the state, with some parents arguing that masks are impeding their children's development and others fearful that classrooms of maskless children will boost the spread of the potentially deadly virus, especially for people who are medically vulnerable.
While COVID cases in the state have dropped significantly in recent weeks, state data shows the number of deaths is still elevated.
The bill flew through Virginia’s General Assembly with predominantly Republican support.
While some families welcome the change, others are worried. Stafford County mother Beth Mason said she’s “absolutely terrified” to think about the health risk a school with optional masking could pose to her immunocompromised daughter.
Her daughter, Mia, has juvenile arthritis. After years of treatment, she's in remission. But doctors told her family her condition could come back if she catches COVID-19.
Northern Virginia School Districts Respond to Mask Mandate Bill
News4 is tracking Northern Virginia school districts’ responses to SB 739. Here’s what they’ve said so far.
Alexandria City Public Schools
ACPS will discuss the plan at a special school board meeting on Feb. 24, the district said in a statement Thursday. It said in part: “The staff has been actively planning for when masks will become optional. Our top priority is the safety and well-being of our students and staff in our school division.”
Arlington Public Schools
Arlington will require students to wear masks until March 1. The district is working on an official opt-out system.
Fairfax County Public Schools
The school board was set to meet in an emergency closed-door session Thursday. A source inside the district said a decision is expected soon on when masks will be optional.
Loudoun County Public Schools
A Loudoun County judge granted a temporary injunction Wednesday evening that makes masks in Loudoun public schools optional immediately. This came after three parents in the county filed suit against the school board, arguing the mask policy caused their children irreparable harm and claiming that a school board doesn't have the constitutional authority to implement a mask mandate.
The judge's order moves up the timeline for making masks optional in Loudoun schools. Previously, the school system had said it had planned to make the change starting Feb. 22.
Prince William County Public Schools
Superintendent LaTanya McDade sent a message to families and employees Tuesday. She said in part, “PWCS will be reviewing and revising our mitigation strategies as necessary to be consistent with the final version of the new legislation. As always, any changes to our mitigation strategies will be made thoughtfully with the safety, health, and instructional needs of our students and staff at the forefront. We will continue to monitor the developments from Richmond this week, and I will provide an update Friday evening.
The legislature passed the bill Monday, but it would not have taken effect until July 1. That night, the governor added an emergency clause to allow the policy to take effect immediately upon passage. He also added a provision giving school districts until March 1 to develop plans to comply with the law.
The amended legislation then passed both legislative chambers again. Moderate Democratic Sen. Chap Petersen and two other Democrats joined with Republicans to push the legislation through the Senate, where Democrats hold a narrow 21-19 advantage. The final passage Wednesday in the GOP-controlled House came on a party-line 52-48 vote.
Youngkin promised a new approach to COVID-19 and sought to end the mask mandates on his first day in office last month by issuing an executive order. But that order has been bogged down in legal challenges from local school boards who argue it usurps their authority.
After a judge issued an injunction barring Youngkin's order from taking effect, three Democrats in the state Senate combined with the 19 Republicans in the 40-member chamber to pass legislation ending the mandates.
The move to end the mask mandates in schools comes as several states across the country have begun making similar changes.