Seven school districts in Virginia on Monday filed a lawsuit against Governor Glenn Youngkin against his order repealing their mask-wearing policy and making mask-wearing optional in public schools.
School districts include Fairfax County Public Schools, the largest in the state with over 178,000 students, as well as school systems in Prince William County, Alexandria, Arlington, Falls Church, Hampton and Richmond. Together, the districts serve over 350,000 students.
The school districts said in a statement Monday that the lawsuit, filed in Arlington Circuit Court, “defends the right of school boards to make policies at the local level, including policies that protect the health and well-being of all students and employees. “.
School leaders questioned whether the executive order could “unilaterally revoke” the powers given to local councils by the state constitution. The lawsuit also disputes whether the governor’s order could override legislative action passed in 2021 that allowed students to attend classes in person while local school boards follow recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Without action today, school boards are in the legally unbearable position of facing an executive order that is contrary to the constitution and state law,” the lawsuit says.
Governor’s spokeswoman Macaulay Porter said in a statement that the governor’s office is “disappointed that these school boards are ignoring parental rights.” She said Mr. Youngkin and the state’s attorney general intend to fight the lawsuit.
Mr. Youngkin issued an executive order on January 15, the day he took office, which said that parents could decide for themselves whether to follow school mask guidelines. The order was intended to revoke the mandate imposed by Mr. Youngkin’s predecessor, Ralph Northam.
Mr Youngkin ordered that parents of any child enrolled in a school or school’s early childhood care and education program “may choose to have their children not be subject to any wearing regulations” at the facility.
“Parents should be able to decide if their child should wear masks throughout the school day,” it says.
The schools’ lawsuit states, in part, that the plaintiff’s schools “have students and staff who are particularly vulnerable to the effects of Covid-19, and for whom exposure to the virus could lead to serious illness or death,” and that this masking was among the measures to mitigation adopted by schools for the 2021-22 school year.