NEWPORT NEWS, Va. — School leaders are trying to figure out their next move when it comes to Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s executive order that makes masks optional in public schools.
In Hampton Roads, leaders said they need more guidance before making any decisions.
“Our school administration has been working countless around the clock since the executive order to do what is best for everyone and to follow the law,” said Newport News School Board member John Eley.
Youngkin’s executive order takes effect on Monday. Eley said the school division is aiming to give parents further guidance this Friday.
“Speaking on what I want, I want to follow the law, whatever that looks like,” Eley said. “Let’s abide by the law.”
Competing with the executive order is Senate Bill 1303, which is on the books as Virginia law.
That law requires school boards to offer in-person instruction to students and follow CDC recommendations to the maximum extent practicable, which includes wearing masks.
Delegate Tim Anderson, who is also a Virginia Beach lawyer said Senate Bill 1303 complicates the governor’s order.
“Relative to masks, there is a recommendation that all children two and older and all persons in the building should be masked,” Anderson said regarding SB1303.
However, he said the CDC recommendation line is also confusing.
“The CDC just yesterday came out and said we shouldn’t be playing football; we shouldn’t have outdoor bands,” Anderson said. “There are a lot of recommendations the CDC is making that are not being followed by schools.”
From a legal standpoint, he said whether school boards decide to follow Youngkin’s order or SB 1303, lawsuits will erupt on both sides.
“School boards are in tough positions; they are going to say you have to wear masks and you are going to have parents suing saying you don’t have to,” Anderson said. “And you are going to have the school board saying you don’t have to wear masks and parents suing.”
He said Youngkin also could sue school divisions that decide to disobey his order.
“[He] has the power of the Attorney General’s office to sue to enforce his orders,” Anderson said. “I think the Attorney General can bring a lawsuit on behalf of the Commonwealth that says 1303 does not require masks.”
Anderson said the Senate Bill will end in August, likely before any of the lawsuits have rulings.
“It will be clear on August 1, 2022, that masks will be optional in schools moving forward,” Anderson said.
He also said Youngkin’s order rescinds the former health commissioner’s order, which required masks in all schools, public and private.
Because Senate Bill 1303 only covers public schools, Anderson said that clears the way for Youngkin’s order to apply to private schools.