RICHMOND, Va. (AP)- Republican Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin was facing a new legal challenge over his executive action that aimed to let parents opt out of school mask mandates as his order took effect Monday.
Youngkin issued the order as one of his first acts after being sworn in as governor Jan. 15, and confusion has swirled over the implications since then. Some districts have interpreted the order as being at odds with a state law that deals with COVID-19 mitigation in schools and have opted to keep pre-existing mask mandates in place for students.
It was not immediately clear Monday morning to what extent conflict might unfold at schools across the state over the conflicting guidance. Some social media posts urged parents to follow the governor’s order, regardless of their school district’s position.
With the order facing a legal challenge filed last week filed by a group of parents and another filed Monday morning by seven school boards, Youngkin urged patience and asked parents to listen to their children’s school principals for the time being.
“Listen to a principal today. And I know that there are some school systems that are doing things that are inconsistent with respecting the rights of parents. … Let’s respect it right now and let this legal process play out,” he said in an interview with Richmond radio station WRVA Monday morning.
The lawsuit argues the state constitution gives local school boards the authority to run their districts. It also cites a state law that requires school systems to follow federal health guidelines, which include recommendations for universal masking.
“At issue is whether locally-elected school boards will maintain the exclusive authority and responsibility conferred upon them by Article VIII, Section 7 of the Constitution of Virginia to supervise the public schools in their respective school divisions or whether the Governor can unilaterally infringe upon that authority through an executive order,” the lawsuit states.
Monday’s lawsuit comes after a group of parents in Chesapeake field a petition last week at the Virginia Supreme Court challenging the executive order.
The Supreme Court justices took no action on the lawsuit last week and it was not immediately clear if they would do so Monday.
Democrats commended the school boards who challenged Youngkin on Monday and accused him of using children as political pawns.
Youngkin spokesperson Macaulay Porter said the administration was disappointed that the school boards were acting counter to parents’ rights.
“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,” she said in a statement.
Locally, a set of outraged parents purchased ads on WESR after their son was suspended off site for five days for not wearing a mask to an Accomack County School.
The controversy not only concerns parental rights but also whether wearing masks is an effective deterrent for the COVID virus. After years of urging the public to wear masks, most of which were cloth or paper, the scientists are now saying that the only effective mask is the N-95, which is far more expensive and not widely available.
Mixed messages from the government has created public confusion.