FAIRFAX, Va. — Even though several school districts in Northern Virginia decided to keep their current mask requirements, many parents plan to send their children to school without a mask this week citing the governor's order.
The executive order from Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) to lift mask mandates in schools and give parents the option has divided communities. The order is set to take effect on Monday despite at least one lawsuit accusing the governor of violating a state law passed last year by the General Assembly for school systems to provide in-person classes while following the fullest extent of CDC guidelines, which currently recommends masks in schools and buses.
An effort online has encouraged parents to declare their freedom by contacting their child's school and letting them know of the order, telling kids how they can refuse requests to wear a mask and encouraging them to go maskless "with their smile on."
"You may feel the need to explain your mask issues further," the website Mask Off Monday said in its instruction page. "Resist that feeling. When it comes to the law, explanation is weakness."
Fairfax County parent Kristin Jackson already explained to her children how to decline masks when they return to school on Tuesday. She plans to have them keep a copy of the order.
"If the teacher wants to cause a ruckus, then take out the executive letter, and we will type up the letter as well, and say, 'Hey it's my choice and whatever the other classmates want to do that's their choice.'" Jackson said.
Fairfax County Public Schools is one of several school districts including Loudoun and Arlington Counties to maintain the mask mandate after the governor signed his order.
The FCPS Mask Regulation protocol says if the child, who is not already exempt, refuses to wear a mask, they will not receive face-to-face instructions. That student will receive an unexcused absence for the day.
"I will go to the school and I will send my husband to go to the school if we have to," Jackson said. "It's a fight now."
Jackson said an email from her child's principal indicated he will enforce rules on mask and children who refuse "will be supported in the care room" until they are picked up.
Youngkin said he's confident Virginia's Supreme Court will rule in favor of parents who want an opt-out policy.
He also urged all parents to listen to their principal and trust the legal process.
Fairfax mother Christy Hudson said she wants an opt-out policy to be implemented in her school system too but adds her family will not violate FCPS policy.
She said she is unsure what will happen next in her community.
"What I'm most hopeful for is that our school leadership looks beyond just masks and starts to evaluate the whole health of our children," Hudson said.
A Loudoun County Public Schools spokesperson said the district will continue to follow current practice if parents choose to keep their child maskless. The protocol said: "Students who are not wearing a mask will be directed to comply with the requirement. If they do not have a mask, one will be provided to them. If a student refuses to comply, staff will meet with the student and contact the parent/guardian to discuss and identify the reason the student refuses to comply. If non-compliance is related to medical or financial need, the school-based team will develop a plan of action to support the student’s compliance with the requirement."
There are many other parents throughout Northern Virginia concerned about parents having the choice to mask up their students.
Fauquier County Public Schools is the latest division to give the option to parents in the Thursday night school board meeting.
Anna Hoover, a parent with three children in public schools, claimed her emails for answers about the future of the mask mandate at FCPS went unanswered. She learned about the policy change the following morning.
She is considering removing her children from school or trying to figure out how to apply them in the virtual learning program before the order is in effect. With her kindergartner son battling severe asthma, her main concern has been her children's health and safety.
"I'm really at a loss and trying to figure things out," Hoover told WUSA9. "It makes sense to follow mitigation strategies to keep everybody safe and to keep kids in school and to keep staff safe."
The future of mask mandates in schools have taken a tense turn in Page County where a mother pledged to bring "every loaded gun" she owns during a school board meeting.
On Friday, Superintendent Fox said that all Page County schools will see an increased police presence, supported by the Page County Sheriff's Office, on Friday and Monday. Luray police have charged the mother for her threatening rhetoric.