Seven Virginia school districts sue over Youngkin's masking optional executive order

New GOP governor centered his campaign on the idea of parents' rights

Seven school districts in Virginia are suing newly sworn-in GOP Gov. Glenn Youngkin over his executive order that allows parents to decide whether or not their children wear COVID-19 masks to school.

School boards in Alexandria, Arlington, Richmond, Falls Church, Hampton and Fairfax and Prince William counties are challenging the constitutionality of the order, which they argue do not override a March 2021 law that says local public school boards should abide by federal guidelines. 

Presently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continues to recommend "universal indoor masking by all students (ages 2 years and older), staff, teachers, and visitors to K-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status."

A statement from Fairfax County Public Schools reads: "Without today's action, school boards are placed in a legally untenable position – faced with an executive order that is in conflict with the constitution and state law."

The county added that the suit is "not politically motivated," and that members "would welcome the opportunity to collaborate with the governor to ensure the safety and welfare of all students."

The current law, which technically expires at the beginning of August, requires each school board to abide "to the maximum extent practicable" to any elementary and secondary school COVID mitigation strategy provided by the CDC.

In response to the suit, Youngkin's office conveyed disappointed that the school boards are "acting counter to parents' rights," an issue that was at the center of Youngkin's successful campaign for the governorship.

"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," said a spokesperson for the governor.

Youngkin's executive order argues in part that despite the CDC's recommendation, the agency has found "statistically no significant link between mandatory masking for students and reduced transmission of COVID-19."

"In light of the variety of circumstances confronted by students in the commonwealth, parents should have the ability to decide whether their child should wear masks for the duration of the school day," the order also reads. "This approach is consistent with the broad rights of parents."