Youngkin’s executive order requires schools to let parents decide whether their children should wear masks and for how long.
Youngkin, a Republican, said mask requirements have proven “ineffective and impractical” and inflicted harm, including inhibiting the ability of children to communicate and breathe.
He ordered schools and school-based early child care and educational programs to let children remain unmasked, depending on what their parents choose. The order (pdf) says parents don’t have to provide a reason for their decision.
The order takes effect on Jan. 24.
Officials in Arlington and Fairfax counties, both in northern Virginia, quickly signaled they wouldn’t comply, at least for now.
“Arlington Public Schools will continue to require all staff and students to wear masks inside on school grounds and on buses, as part of our layered approach to safety. Universal mask use has proven effective in keeping COVID-19 transmission rates low in our schools and ensuring schools remain safe and open,” Arlington Public Schools said in a statement.
State law, Senate Bill 1303, which lets districts implement mitigation measures, provides the authority to defy Youngkin’s order, Arlington officials said.
“We are governed by the Virginia code,” State Delegate Patrick Hope, a Democrat who represents part of the county, said on WTOP radio. “And the Virginia code states very clearly that school districts should adhere by the CDC’s recommendations.”
Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) also said it would keep mask requirements in place.
“As we return to school after the holiday weekend, we want to let you know that FCPS will continue universal masking for all students and staff,” Scott Brabrand, the district’s superintendent, told parents.
He said the district was aware of the order and was reviewing it.
Additionally, Alexandria City Public Schools stated it wouldn’t follow Youngkin’s order that reverses the statewide school mask mandate imposed by then-Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat.
Youngkin told reporters over the weekend that the order doesn’t take effect until later this month.
“It is time to listen to parents,” he said. “Over the course of this week, I hope they will listen to parents, because we will use every resource within the governor’s authority to explore what we can and will do to ensure parents’ rights are protected.”