Breaking News
More () »

York County mom shares settlement impact of disabilities lawsuit against Virginia's mask order

The executive order at the heart of the lawsuit was one of the first official actions by Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin when he took office.

YORK COUNTY, Va. — There is nothing a mom wouldn’t do to keep her kid safe.

And York County mom Denille Francis feels she's helped deliver a win for herself and families across Virginia. 

"How do we do this, how do we keep him safe?" Francis said, speaking of her middle school-aged son. 

In early 2022, 12 parents, including Francis, filed a lawsuit against Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s Executive Order Number Two. The executive order gave families the option for students to not be subject to mask mandates. 

Just before Christmas, a settlement was reached that further cemented a previous injunctive relief ruling, and further established the plaintiff's rights to request masking accommodations from their respective students' schools. 

Youngkin's executive order went on to read:

No parent electing that a mask mandate should not apply to his or her child shall be required to provide a reason or make any certification concerning their child’s health or education

"Parents, like myself, became very panicked [during COVID] because it’s like our worst nightmare. I have a child with intellectual disabilities who doesn’t always understand risk to him," she said.

All 12 plaintiffs, including Francis, are parents of children with disabilities. Their lawsuit alleged the executive order "increased exclusion and segregation of students with disabilities," arguing the absence of masking could put that student population at higher risk of getting sick.

The lawsuit's main argument is that the order is in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act as well as Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. 

"Often our underheard, underrepresented people are sort of lost and forgotten," Francis said. 

Francis said that the settlement goes beyond impacting just the lawsuit's plaintiffs. Rather, it establishes a precedent that other families of students with disabilities in Virginia can use to request masking accommodations from their schools. 

"If needed, we have the pathway to go to the schools and say we need folks to mask for our son's safety. Before, we had been given explicit guidance we weren’t even allowed to ask," she said.

Masking doesn't become automatic based on the ruling, though, as it becomes a case-by-case basis for each student. In Francis' case, their family is monitoring the transmission rates before making any request at Tabb Middle School in York County.  

"It's a chance to advocate for the larger disability community," she said. 

There are three schools directly named in the lawsuit, including two other elementary schools in Chesapeake. 

Before You Leave, Check This Out