Youngkin Removes K-12 School Mask Mandate


Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, second from left, addresses the media as he prepares to sign executive orders in the Governors conference room as Lt. Gov. Winsome Earle-Sears, left, Attorney General Jason Miyares, second from right, and Secretary of the Commonwealth, Kay Cole James, right, look on at the Capitol Saturday Jan. 15, 2022, in Richmond, Va. (Photo By: STEVE HELBER / AP PHOTO)

Ally Richardson

On January 15, the newly inaugurated Governor of Virginia, Glenn Youngkin, made one of his first orders of business the removal of K-12 school mask mandates in his Second Executive Order (EO 2). By doing so, he kept one of his campaign promises to Virginia parents, which were a crucial demographic during the 2021 gubernatorial election.

Despite January bringing the highest peak of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, Youngkin believes that it is time for Virginia to put the decision of mask-wearing in the hands of parents. Youngkin’s EO 2 declared that on January 24th, all Virginia schools would remove their mask mandates making masks optional for all students. The reasons cited in his EO 2 include that wearing a mask is more harmful than beneficial to school children. They make it so that kids feel isolated and struggle with developing language and communication skills. They are ineffective because most masks used are cloth masks and are generally worn improperly by children. Youngkin suggested that schools improve air filtration, ventilation, and testing as a mitigation strategy. The core of his EO 2 is that wearing a mask should be a personal choice that all Virginian parents have a right to make for their children.

Some counties, particularly in Northern Virginia, made statements in immediate opposition to Youngkin’s executive order; the most prominent include Arlington County, Prince William County, and Fairfax County. These counties and others emphasized the Virginia General Assembly statute (SB1303) requiring schools to follow recommendations of the CDC. The current recommendation of the CDC is universal indoor masking in all K-12 schools. Matthew Torres of WUSA 9 FCPS specifically mentioned the response of FCPS: “ In a statement, FCPS referenced the bipartisan SB1303, which requires school divisions to ‘provide such in-person instruction in a manner in which it adheres, to the maximum extent practicable, to any currently applicable mitigation strategies for early childhood care and education programs and elementary and secondary schools to reduce the transmission of COVID-19 that have been provided by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.’”

Following this, some parents stormed into school on Monday the 24th with their maskless children, demanding they be allowed in. A website called “No Mask Monday” continued to fan the flames with Dahlia Lithwick of Slate explaining its purpose:  “…instructed parents to send kids to school prepared to defy the school guidance with these instructions: You may feel the need to explain your mask issues further. Resist that feeling. When it comes to the law, explanation is weakness.” The site goes on to explain: “It’s time to get back to normal life, and the time to push is right now. Fear has ruled our lives for far too long. No ‘health authority’ will give you the all clear after all of the new power they have seized and wielded. You must turn off the television, and take it for yourself.’” Anti-mask Virginians have been encouraged by this and Youngkin to believe they can pick and choose which laws to follow. This position has led to several parents and seven Virginia school boards to sue Youngkin over the legality of his Second Executive Order.

The current situation is heading on anarchy-lite, with some Virginians outright denying the regulations held by their school boards and others renouncing Youngkin’s executive order. With divisions flaring up between Virginians, will Youngkin restore order while keeping his promise to parents, or will Virginia school boards establish a new precedent?