VIRGINIA, USA — The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Virginia has filed a federal lawsuit against Gov. Glenn Youngkin's executive order lifting mask mandates at public schools in the commonwealth.
In January, the newly inaugurated governor signed an executive order allowing parents to opt out of school mask mandates for children.
School boards across the commonwealth have pushed back on the order, saying Youngkin has overstepped a lawfully adopted statute with his recent executive order to make masks optional in schools. Seven school districts have filed lawsuits against the order, including Alexandria City, Arlington County, City of Richmond, Fairfax County, Falls Church City, Hampton City and Prince William County.
Now the ACLU of Virginia is joining the fight against Youngkin's executive order.
In a Tweet Tuesday, the ACLU of Virginia announced that the organization has filed a federal lawsuit challenging the executive order on behalf of parents of students with disabilities.
The ACLU of Virginia said in a press release that Youngkin's executive order to lift mask mandates was made despite the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance recommending indoor masking for anyone over the age of 2, including students, teachers, staff and visitors, regardless of vaccination status.
“The Executive Order shows a reckless disregard for students with disabilities across Virginia,” said Kaitlin Banner, deputy legal director, Washington Lawyers’ Committee. “The Order prevents schools from taking reasonable steps to make sure their students can go to school and enjoy the same educational experiences as their friends.”
The ACLU pointed to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, citing that schools cannot exclude students with disabilities, deny them equal access to their education, or segregate them unnecessarily. The nonprofit says students with disabilities are at high risk for severe illnesses if they contract COVID-19. The lawsuit argues that forcing schools to dismiss mask mandates will force these children to be excluded from public schools, violating the ADA and Section 504.
“Children with serious medical conditions need to feel safe at school. Mask mandates allow them to access the educational services to which they are entitled,” said Colleen Miller, executive director of the disAbility Law Center of Virginia.
The ACLU claims that the executive order, which went into effect on Jan. 24, prohibits school districts from implementing reasonable modifications, such as mask mandates, for high-risk students who need to attend school without risking their lives. The organization argues that the order creates an impossible choice for parents between their children's education and health and safety.
“By refusing to allow school districts to even consider whether to implement universal mask requirements as needed to protect the health and safety of the children they serve, the governor’s order has placed unlawful barriers to educational access for students with disabilities,” said Eden Heilman, the ACLU of Virginia's legal director. “The governor is preventing some of the state’s most vulnerable children from returning to, or remaining in, public schools.”
Virginia's new governor signed an executive order removing the mask mandate from state schools. Governor Youngkin makes several claims on the order.