RICHMOND, Va. — Not even a week after Gov. Glenn Youngkin signed his controversial order to lift mask mandates in school starting next week, pushback is steadily growing.
House and Senate Democrats in Virginia gathered Tuesday to urge the governor to reverse course. They are concerned by the potential threat to defund schools that choose to keep mask requirements despite the order.
Several school districts -- including Fairfax, Arlington and Loudoun -- have already announced they'll stick to their mask policies for now, but will be reviewing the executive order.
Democratic leaders said Youngkin's actions were illegal and invalid since legislators passed a bipartisan law last year that required schools in Virginia to offer in-person classes while following the fullest extent of CDC guidelines, which currently recommend wearing masks in schools and classrooms. The law is set to expire in August.
Del. Schuyler VanValkenburg ( D-Henrico County) shared his disappointment, saying he Youngkin is putting politics over people's health.
"It's hard to see that anything but kind of culture war politics, because if our goal is to keep our kids in school, why aren't we doing everything possible to keep them there?" VanValkenburg asked. "We will see this go to the courts and I think this executive order was designed to do."
Litigation is likely since law experts and legislators stress the order does not supersede what the General Assembly passed.
"It is civics 101 that they teach you in high school," George Washington Law Professor Peter Meyers said. "In my view what the governor has done is invalid and has no force and effect."
Meyers said Youngkin could defund or de-certify schools, or take school districts to court to impose an injunction. In his opinion, since the law does not specifically mention "masks," the interpretation could be argued in front of a judge.
"A lawyer could argue there's a little bit of wiggle room there that it's not an absolute requirement," Meyers added.
Youngkin said giving parents options when it comes to masks at school is important. There are many parents who support the order, including Daniel Latham, a Spotsylvania County parent and member of the group Empowering Parents Inspiring Children.
Latham's family had to recently quarantine because they contracted COVID, but he believed personal liberty is still vital.
"I'm generally opposed to all mandates just because I'm such a proponent of personal responsibility, personal risk assessment and then personal liberty to make whatever choices you feel is best for your life," Latham said. "I'm not trying to take anything from everybody who is concerned about the safety of their children. I just personally have looked at the information and decided that what we're dealing with right now does not pose a huge risk to my children."
However, concerns are growing from parents who know despite the existing law, other parents will feel emboldened to send their child to school without a mask. Melissa Muir, a parent in Prince William County, said she fears her son could be infected and bring the virus home, where her father is still suffering from long-haul COVID.
"All the talk parents do about the mental health effects of masking your children, well what about the mental health effects of not masking your children and your children bringing home COVID?" Muir questioned. "Public schools are for the good of the public, not for the good of just a few people who are screaming and yelling about their perceived rights."
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