It was reported by Fox News on Monday that Virginia’s Lieutenant Governor said that Governor Glenn Youngkin may consider withholding funds from school districts that do not comply with his executive order making masks optional for students in Virginia. While they did not confirm that they would withhold money from school districts, Youngkin’s office did not rule it out either.
“The executive order allows parents to opt-out of mask mandates so that they can make the best decisions for their children and anyone who wants to wear a mask is free to do so,” said Macaulay Porter, press secretary for Youngkin in a statement Monday. “Consistent with the governor’s past remarks, we will consider the tools available to make sure that parents’ rights are protected.”
The executive order that is being referenced was signed by Youngkin shortly after becoming governor Saturday. The order gives parents the option to send their child to school without a facemask, overturning a statewide mandate that was enacted by former Governor Ralph Northam. Democrats have opposed the new order, citing SB 1303, the law that the General Assembly passed in 2021 requiring schools to offer in-person learning and use CDC recommendations for Covid-19 mitigation measures.
SB 1303 was bipartisan with a Democratic and Republican sponsor. Those sponsors differ in their opinion of Youngkin’s order. “It’s not about schools being open, it’s about kids being in classrooms,” said Del. Schuyler Vanvalkenburg (Henrico), the Democratic sponsor of the bill. “Schools only work if there are people in them. If we can keep 10-20% more kids in desks by mitigating with masks why would we not do that? Omicron may not be as dangerous as Delta or previous variants but if students, teachers, and staff test positive they can’t be in school.”
The bill was co-sponsored by Republican state Sen. Siobhan Dunnavant (Henrico). “SB1303 does not mandate the use of masks in school because the CDC does not mandate masks,” Dunnavant said in a press release Monday.
School districts across Virginia have stated that they will keep the mask mandates in place. Jason Kamras, the superintendent of public schools in Richmond said on Saturday that RPS will “maintain its100% mask mandate for students, staff, and visitors.”
Other districts like Fairfax and Arlington have said something similar, setting up a battle ahead likely to end in lawsuits. It will only take one lawsuit, however, to put Youngkin’s executive order to the test. A group of parents from Chesapeake filed a lawsuit against the order with the Virginia Supreme Court on Tuesday.
The new order goes into effect on Monday, Jan. 24.
Porter blamed Democrats for the reaction to the comments from Sears on Monday. “Democrats willfully mischaracterized the Lieutenant Governor’s comments to the press and played politics in an effort to delegitimize the rights of parents. This is the exact type of divisive partisan politics that Virginians rejected this fall.”
Del. Kelly Convirs-Fowler (D-Virginia Beach) blamed the Republicans for making mask-wearing a political issue.
“The stark difference is that when there is an option to wear a mask, all of our pages are wearing a mask and all of our staff is wearing a mask, but one political party is not. I think that pretty much shows the politicization that is going on.”
On the House floor Tuesday, Convirs-Fowler read letters that she received from teachers after Youngkin’s signed this executive order. The letters that she read were from teachers who were afraid to return to work and send their kids to school.
One of the letters that Convirs-Fowler read was from a single mother and teacher in Virginia Beach on the floor. “I am left between a rock and a hard place,” the teacher wrote. “Really, since yesterday when he signed the paper until now, I have been in turmoil. His decision affects my kid’s health, their education, my health, and puts the job that I love at risk. I am all my kid’s have and if something were to happen to me because of my job, they would be left with no one.”
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