Virginia Superintendent Orders Students to Wear Masks in Violation of Governor’s Executive Order

Principals to suspend students who don’t comply
By Patricia Tolson
Patricia Tolson
Patricia Tolson
Patricia Tolson, an award-winning national investigative reporter with 20 years of experience, has worked for such news outlets as Yahoo!, U.S. News, and The Tampa Free Press. With The Epoch Times, Patricia’s in-depth investigative coverage of human interest stories, election policies, education, school boards, and parental rights has achieved international exposure. Send her your story ideas:
February 1, 2022Updated: February 2, 2022

A Virginia public schools superintendent has ordered children to wear masks and principals to suspend any children who refuse to comply, in direct violation of an executive order by Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin.

On Jan. 21, Virginia’s Fairfax County Public Schools superintendent posted two messages, one being a public message informing parents and students that the “regulation requiring universal masking remains in place.” The private message to school administrators ordered principals to suspend/expel all students who refuse to wear a mask.

“In accordance with state law, our regulation requiring universal masking remains in place until further notice,” reads Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) Superintendent Scott S. Brabrand’s public message, titled “Maintaining Mask Requirements Within a Caring Culture.” “Students will be required to comply with the requirements of Regulation 2109.2. Face masks are included in the student dress code and failure to comply remains an SR&R violation. Intentional removal of or refusal to wear a face covering during the times face coverings are required by all students will be treated as a violation of Regulation 2613. In addition, per federal guidelines, students must continue to wear masks at all times on school buses or other FCPS transportation.”

Screenshot from Message from the Superintendent - -- "Maintaining Mask Requirements Within a Caring Culture" -- issued January 15 by Fairfax County Public Schools Superintendent Scott Brabrand.
Screenshot from Message from the Superintendent—”Maintaining Mask Requirements Within a Caring Culture”—issued by Fairfax County Public Schools Superintendent Scott Brabrand on Jan. 15, 2022. (FCPS website)

Despite Brabrand’s claim, the cited “state law” does not require “universal masking.” It “requires each school board to offer in-person instruction” and “to provide such in-person instruction in a manner in which it adheres” to “currently applicable mitigation strategies” to “reduce the transmission” of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, commonly known as the novel coronavirus, “that have been provided by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.” The CDC guidelines also do not “require,” but rather “recommends universal indoor masking.”

The Private Message

The private message, issued by Brabrand to administrators of FCPS, ordered principals to suspend any students who refused to wear a mask on school property. It also provided school staff with “social media guidelines,” instructions on what to do “if media” or “demonstrators” show up at their school and provided “problem solving possible scenarios” on “how to coach children whose parents have advised them not to wear masks” and how to “handle parents.”

In slide 13 of his 34-slide presentation, titled “Principal Briefing,” shared by a whistleblower with Parents Defending Education, Brabrand provides an “Action Plan” for school staff to follow for “Face Mask Non-Compliance.” Staff is advised to “redirect the student by reminding them of the requirement to wear a face mask.” If that doesn’t work, staff are told to “seek support” from other staff members, such as the school counselor, social worker, psychologist, or behavior intervention teacher “to provide additional education” regarding “the expectation” and “possible ramifications” of “not complying.” If that doesn’t work, “school staff will contact the parent/guardian for support in redirecting the student to comply.” If that doesn’t work, “the school will inform the parent/guardian that the student will be excluded from in-person instruction until such time that the student complies.”

Screenshot of Slide 13 from Principal Briefing issued by Fairfax County Public Schools Superintendent Scott Brabrand January 21, advising administrators of the "action plan" for "Face Mask Non-Compliance."
Screenshot of Slide 13 from the principal briefing issued by Fairfax County Public Schools Superintendent Scott Brabrand on Jan. 21, 2022, advising administrators of the “action plan” for “Face Mask Non-Compliance.” (Courtesy of Parents Defending Education)

On slide 15, Brabrand orders that “students who refuse to attend school due to refusal to wear a face covering” will receive a one-day “unexcused” suspension. After “15 consecutive days of absence” those students will be expelled. According to reports, FCPS officials have already begun suspending students and police have been called to restrict media access and coverage of the unfolding events.

Screenshot of Slide 15 from Principal's Briefing, issued January 15 by Fairfax County Public Schools Superintendent Scott Brabrand, ordering administrators to suspend any students who refuse to wear a mask.
Screenshot of Slide 15 from the principal briefing issued by Fairfax County Public Schools Superintendent Scott Brabrand on Jan. 15, 2022, ordering administrators to suspend any students who refuse to wear a mask. (Courtesy of Parents Defending Education)

Slide 20 provides “Social Media Guidance for Staff,” advising that “the wrong” post “can put you in the center of controversy” and “establishing appropriate privacy settings to limit access to personal information on your social media account(s) is a good idea.”

Slide 22 provides procedures regarding “Media Requests and Demonstrators,” advising them to contact Julie Moult if anyone from the media shows up at their school. Members of the media are to be confined to public sidewalks. If they refuse to stay on the sidewalk staff is to call school security. Demonstrators are also not permitted on school property. “Principals should contact school security for noncompliance with this request” and “OSS [Office of Safety and Security] will determine if FCPD [Fairfax County Police Department] presence is warranted.”

Slide 24 of Brabrand’s presentation provides staff with “Problem Solving Possible Scenarios” on how to “coach children whose parents have advised them not to wear masks.” Staff is provided a script to use with non-compliant students, which explains that while they “respect” their “parents’ perspective,” there are times when “school rules and home rules can be in conflict but when we are at school we follow school rules. At home we follow home rules.”

Screenshot of slide 24 in Principal's Briefing, issued January 15 by Fairfax County Public Schools Superintendent Scott Brabrand
Screenshot of slide 24 from the principal briefing, issued by Fairfax County Public Schools Superintendent Scott Brabrand on Jan. 15, 2022, instructing school staff how to “coach children whose parents have advised them not to wear masks” and “how to handle parents.” (Courtesy of Parents Defending Education)

Regarding how to “handle parents of elementary students who show up at school to ensure their child is able to attend without a mask,” staff is provided a similar script and advised to “meet with the parent without the student.”

“You respect the parent’s perspective but school rules and home rules can be in conflict,” Brabrand’s directive reads. “When we are at school we follow school rules. At home we follow home rules. FCPS always prioritizes the health and safety of our students, staff, families, and community above everything else. We want to keep our schools open and safe. I need to follow FCPS policy as set by our School Board and the directives of our Superintendent.

The Law

Despite the script provided to FCPS staff expressing the “need to follow FCPS policy” as set by the School Board and the directives of the Superintendent, that policy and those directives are in direct violation of Youngkin’s second executive order, signed into law on Jan. 15 and “effective 12:00 a.m., Monday, January 24, 2022, and shall remain in full force and effect until amended or rescinded by further executive order.”

“There is no greater priority than the health and welfare of Virginia’s children,” Youngkin’s order, “Reaffirming the Rights of Parents in the Upbringing, Education and Care of Their Children” (pdf), reads, in part. “Under Virginia law, parents, not the government, have the fundamental right to make decisions concerning the care of their children.”

After explaining his reasoning for the order, Youngkin states “by virtue of the authority vested in me as Governor,” and “by virtue of the authority vested in the State Health Commissioner,” the executive order (pdf) issued by former Virginia Gov. Ralph S. Northam May 14, 2021, “is rescinded and the following is ordered:”

  1. The State Health Commissioner shall terminate Order of Public Health Emergency Order Ten (2021).
  2. The parents of any child enrolled in a[n] elementary or secondary school or a school based early childcare and educational program may elect for their children not to be subject to any mask mandate in effect at the child’s school or educational program.
  3. No parent electing that a mask mandate should not apply to his or her child shall be required to provide a reason or make any certification concerning their child’s health or education.
  4. A child whose parent has elected that he or she is not subject to a mask mandate should not be required to wear a mask under any policy implemented by a teacher, school, school district, the Department of Education, or any other state authority.
  5. The Superintendent of Public Instruction shall rescind the Interim Guidance for COVID-19 Prevention in Virginia PreK-12 Schools, issued January 14, 2021, and updated October 14, 2021, and issue new guidance for COVID-19 Prevention consistent with this Order.
  6. School districts should marshal any resources available to improve inspection, testing, maintenance, repair, replacement and upgrades of equipment to improve the indoor air quality in school facilities, including mechanical and non-mechanical heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems, filtering, purification, fans, control systems and window and door repair.

In a further act of defiance against Gov. Youngkin’s executive order, the FCPS school board filed a lawsuit (pdf) on June 24 (the day the order took effect) asking the court for an injunction to stop Youngkin’s executive order from being enforced. The school board of FCPS was joined by the school boards of Alexandria City, Arlington County, City of Richmond, Falls Church City, Hampton City, and Prince William County. In a joint statement, the collective of suing school boards insists; “This lawsuit is not brought out of choice, but out of necessity.”

Youngkin spokesperson Macaulay Porter told The Epoch Times: “The governor and attorney general are in coordination and are committed to aggressively defending parents’ fundamental right to make decisions with regard to their child’s upbringing, education, and care as the legal process plays out.”

Parents React

Rita, a teacher in the Hampton Rhodes area and mother of two daughters calls the whole situation “ridiculous.”

“I think it’s pure evil,” Rita told The Epoch Times, speaking under the condition of anonymity out of fear she would lose her job. From her observations as a teacher, Rita believes the stress caused by the constant mandates is causing school systems to “crumble.” The benefits of children not wearing the masks “far outweighs any possible negatives and side effects. It’s very important for these children to be able to see each other’s faces to have that social interaction, to be able to read cues from their teachers and their peers.”

Rita also said the mandates are making for a bad work environment for staff and a bad learning environment for the children. “It’s like they don’t care about the success of their school,” she asserted. “They would rather let it crumble around them so they can say they have ‘power and control’ and they are able to ‘dictate and rule over’ staff and students.” According to Rita, there are only four reasons why the superintendent is defying the governor’s executive order: “One, he’s afraid the minority who support mask mandates will go after him. Two, it’s evil-driven. Three, it’s politically or four, it’s all three. It’s ridiculous. It’s going to backfire.”

As the parent of students attending school in Fairfax County, Michael Leaser received the public message sent to parents. However, he was not aware of the principal briefing sent privately to school administrators. While he believes “the governor’s executive order on masks correctly bases its reasoning in the Code of Virginia, Section 240.01,” he said “the important distinction to be made here is that the governor is not saying that Fairfax County Public Schools may not mandate masks.”

“I think he’s only saying that a parent has a right to elect to decide whether or not that mandate will apply to his or her child,” Leaser, director of external relations for The Family Foundation, told The Epoch Times. “I think that’s the aspect that Fairfax County Public Schools is not addressing. They’re obviously looking toward their mask policies saying, ‘we have the authority over this, this is what we want to do,’ and they’re not making provisions for parents to opt-out for a variety of different reasons. The governor’s executive order, of course, doesn’t state the parent has to provide a reason because they fundamentally have the right to the care and upbringing of their child to make those decisions for them. But Fairfax County is taking the ‘one size fits all’ approach meaning ‘mask everybody,’ and I think the governor rightfully believes in individual liberty and freedom and he also believes in parental rights and that’s part of the reason why he put out this executive order.”

While Stacy Langton did receive the message from Superintendent Brabrand telling her the “regulation requiring universal masking remains in place” she was not aware of the private “behind the scenes counseling” he sent to school administrators “on how teachers should interfere with the child’s relationship with the parent.

“There’s a lot that’s offensive in there,” Langton told The Epoch Times when she learned of the principal briefing. “It’s very alarming. That’s usurping parental authority, which is inherent in the parent/child relationship. That just blows my mind.” Langton said she hopes The Epoch Times will “amplify this” information because parents need to know what’s going on behind their backs. “It’s going to make parents more angry, which is a good thing. But it’s not like we aren’t angry already.” Langton already admonished the FCPS School Board about the determination to keep children in masks against the will of parents. “Stop calling it woke,” she said to an eruption of applause at the Jan. 25 school board meeting. “Call it what it is: communism.”

Katherine Thornton, part of a mothers’ texting group, was very familiar with the private message.

Thornton’s daughter is a senior at Robinson Secondary School who just joined FCPS because of their academy program to become a firefighter. Her younger son attends a private school, Emanual Christian.

“Our family is anti-mask, anti-vaccine,” Robinson, who considers herself a “mama bear,” told The Epoch Times. “We believe this is overreach and not following science.” Robinson is furious that masks are now “part of the uniform” and must even be worn “a specific way.” Robinson wrote the school, saying she had a choice, and her choice was that her child would not wear a mask to school.

“Then the flurry of emails about the private message,” Robinson said of the email exchange that ensued as the parents in her texting group began to learn of the principal briefing. “We’re furious,” she said, adding that the only reason why she “backed off as a parent” was because the governor had “sent out his notice saying give us time to work through the legal system. So, I’m impatiently waiting for that to happen. I find it interesting how the county will follow one governor’s executive order but not follow another’s. I think they’re just making excuses and coming up with regulations. To me, this is in violation of federal and the state constitution. So, I’m going to keep speaking up and offering my opinion and working with other parents figuring out how we get our voices heard.”

The Epoch Times reached out to FCPS Superintendent Brabrand and Media Relations Manager Julie Moult, FCPS School Board Chair Stella Pekarsky, and the OSS.

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