ARLINGTON, Va. — One of the first orders of business for Glenn Youngkin, the incoming Virginia governor, is to rescind mask mandates in schools.
For the months leading up to his inauguration ceremony on Saturday, Youngkin—though he has encouraged people to get vaccinated—has been vocal about removing any mandates even as the commonwealth is in the midst of another COVID surge due to the omicron variant.
"I will rescind the executive order that has mandated vaccines and mask-wearing," Youngkin said in an interview with WUSA9 in December.
His firm stance opposing school mandates continues to concern parents, teachers and union leaders—including the Arlington Education Association, which represents 1,700 members. AEA President Ingrid Gant said teachers are still waiting on the highly recommended N95 and KN95 masks.
"One of the things we thrive on is having the mask to protect us," Gant told WUSA9. "Educators are concerned but I'm very confident that our administrators and leaders in Arlington will do the right thing to not only to keep our educators but our students safe."
Gant said the superintendent is choosing to stick with the current mask policy for now. Several other school districts are doing the same including Prince William County. A PWCS spokesperson said, "COVID-19 mitigations remain unchanged, including mask requirements."
Fairfax County Public Schools will also continue to keep the mask requirements. 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."
The interpretation of the bill can potentially complicate matters if Youngkin reverses the mask mandates. The same law was the linchpin behind the decision to require masks at Spotsylvania County schools despite opposition from some board members.
Stafford County Public Schools said in a statement: "Like all school divisions in Virginia, any decision to remove masks in our schools would be made by the school board after a public meeting. More information would be required as Senate Bill 1303 requires that masks be worn in schools and on buses."
There is a provision in the bill that sets an expiration date of Aug. 1, 2022, but it will likely be revisited.