Judge temporarily puts some limits on Virginia's mask mandate ban

Ten school districts will be allowed to impose limited mask mandates to accommodate students who have disabilities.

Updated: March 25, 2022 - 7:13pm

Ten Virginia school districts will be allowed to impose limited mask mandates to accommodate students who have disabilities pending the outcome of a lawsuit against Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s prohibition on public school mask mandates.

A federal judge approved an injunction against the governor’s mask mandate prohibition for 12 students with disabilities who reside in 10 different school districts. The judge ruled the students represented in the lawsuit could ask their schools to impose mask mandates in areas of the school they frequent and schools will be allowed to enforce them without penalties from the state.

The injunction only halts the enforcement of the law temporarily, until the court rules on the merits of the case. This ruling did not overturn Youngkin’s prohibition on mask mandates and does not allow every school district to impose some form of mandate. The ruling only allows the districts in which the students reside to impose a mandate, and they can only do so in limited circumstances. The mandate must be for the purpose of accommodating the students with disabilities represented in the lawsuit, but would not allow a universal mask mandate. Any mandate could only apply to areas that the students in the lawsuit frequent.

“[Laws] cannot preclude Plaintiffs from asking for some required masking as a reasonable modification,” Judge Norman K. Moon wrote in his ruling, “nor can they bar Plaintiffs’ schools from implementing some required masking, if in fact, it would constitute a reasonable modification under federal law.”

However, noting the limits of his ruling, Moon also said the rules are “the law in Virginia and they remain in force, affording parents the choice whether their children should wear masks to school, notwithstanding any school rule that would require students to wear masks.”

The students are represented by the Virginia American Civil Liberties Union, whose lawyers argued that the governor’s prohibition on school mask mandates violates the Americans with Disabilities Act by putting at-risk children in harm’s way.

“The injunction is a win for schools and students,” The Virginia ACLU said in a statement. “...The Court’s injunction affirms the basis of our case: That schools must have the authority and discretion to provide accommodations for students with disabilities, including the masking of those around them during infectious disease outbreaks, so that they can attend public school like their nondisabled peers.”

Attorney General Jason Miyares, who is representing the state in the lawsuit, also took the order as a victory because it did not overturn the state law. The state has argued that mask mandates negatively impact some children with disabilities, including those who receive speech therapy.

“Today’s ruling affirms that [this law] is the law of Virginia and parents have the right to make choices for their children,” Miyares said in a statement.

The court will still need to rule on whether the law will stand and whether this exemption will remain permanent.