CHESAPEAKE, Va. — School districts across Virginia are adopting an inconsistent patchwork of responses to an executive order from Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin that aims to allow parents to opt-out of classroom mask mandates.
Democrats and many of the state’s largest school divisions contend the order set to take effect Monday runs counter to a state law governing COVID-19 mitigation in schools. Many districts are citing that law in public statements notifying families they have no plans to immediately change their masking rules.
The 2021 law says each Virginia school board is required to offer in-person instruction that adheres “to the maximum extent practicable” to COVID-19 mitigation guidelines from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The CDC currently recommends universal masking by anyone 2 and older, regardless of vaccination status.
Meanwhile, other districts said they are waiting for more clarity. In Hampton Roads, school divisions in Virginia Beach, Chesapeake, Hampton, Newport News, Norfolk, and York County told 13News Now they are keeping masks in place this week and will notify parents of any changes moving forward.
The Chesapeake School Board said it would hold a special meeting on Thursday afternoon to discuss Youngkin's executive order and decide if it will take any further action.
The school board's announcement for a special meeting comes as thirteen parents with children enrolled in Chesapeake Public Schools filed a lawsuit against the governor and members of his administration in the Supreme Court of Virginia, arguing in part that the executive order was in violation of the state law.
“The most important thing for us is our children’s safety, that’s number one,” said Matthew Castillo, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit. “[Senate Bill] 1303 says that we have to follow the CDC guidelines. So that’s all we’re asking, is that we follow the laws in place and not try to circumvent them in an overreach of authority.”
Additionally, the group filing the lawsuit issued the following statement to 13News Now:
Chesapeake Public School parents, from a local advocacy group called "Chesapeake Advocates for Responsible Return to School", have filed an emergency challenge to Governor Youngkin’s Executive Order #2 that prevents the implementation of universal masking guidelines in accordance with the CDC for all children 2 years old and older in a school based setting.
They are seeking to have Executive Order #2 declared void and unenforceable because the Governor does not have the power to use an Executive Order to overturn or override established state law. Further, they are petitioning the Court to enforce Chapter 456, which states that all Virginia school districts “shall” follow all CDC mitigation measures.
The group is urging the Supreme Court of Virginia to act quickly.
"Petitioners have no adequate remedy at law and no time to spare. They and their children are likely to suffer irreparable harm and damage if this Court declines to grant immediate relief," they wrote in their brief.
Macaulay Porter, the spokesperson for Youngkin, sent 13News Now a statement in response to the suit. “We will continue to protect parents' fundamental right to make decisions with regard to their child’s upbringing, education and care."
Moreover, the lawsuit lists Chesapeake's school board and superintendent as defendants. 13News Now reached out to a school division spokesperson for their response. We are waiting to hear back.