Virginia’s Youngkin Weighs Options as School Districts Insist on Mask Mandates

By Bill Pan
Bill Pan
Bill Pan
Bill Pan is a reporter for The Epoch Times.
January 18, 2022Updated: January 18, 2022

Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin is exploring options to respond to school districts defying his executive order, which gives parents the final say on whether their children wear a mask at school.

Less than a week into Youngkin’s first term as governor, several major public school districts have already announced that they will not allow parents to opt their children out of mask requirements in schools. Just hours after the Republican governor signed the executive order, school district officials in Arlington and Fairfax counties and the city of Alexandria sent messages to families, saying there will be no change to their mask policies.

Although Youngkin said that he hopes the school districts will spend this next week reconsidering their decisions, he also told them to be prepared in the meantime for the pushback from his administration.

“Get prepared,” Youngkin said over the weekend, “because we granted parents the option to decide whether they want their child to wear a mask or not, and we’re going to protect that right.”

In a statement to The Epoch Times, Youngkin spokeswoman Macaulay Porter said, “The governor will consider all options available and all tools at his disposal to ensure parents can make decisions about their children’s upbringing, education, and care.”

While the statement didn’t specify what options are currently being weighed, Virginia Lt. Gov. Winsom Sears has signaled on Monday that school districts that refuse to go mask-optional might see their funding withheld by the state.

In an interview on Fox News’ “America Reports,” Sears was asked about how the Youngkin administration plans to enforce the order regarding school mask mandates. She emphasized that the order is meant to give the power back to parents.

“Imagine that parents get to decide about their own children,” said Sears, the first black woman elected to a statewide office in the commonwealth’s history. “By the way, parents are their children’s first teachers, and secondly, who do these children belong to? They don’t belong to the state, they don’t belong to the school board, they belong to their parents.”

“There are certain combinations of money that we send to the state, to the local school boards, and he can withhold some of that, and he could possibly, if the law allows, even give the parents the ability to decide what schools their children should attend,” she said.

What Sears described has already taken place in Florida. In October 2021, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis and Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran imposed financial sanctions on eight school districts found not compliant with the state’s mask policies, holding back monthly salaries of school board members as well as any amount of federal grant funds awarded to those districts by the Biden administration.

In December 2021, the Florida Department of Education returned a total of $877,851 that was withheld from the eight sanctioned counties during the period of non-compliance.