HAMPTON, Va. — Hampton City Schools has joined six other Virginia school divisions in filing a lawsuit against Gov. Glenn Youngkin over his executive order making masks optional in schools in the Commonwealth.
Hampton joined the school boards of Alexandria City, Arlington County, City of Richmond, Fairfax County, Falls Church City, and Prince William County. Their lawsuit claims to "defend the right of school boards to enact policy at the local level, including policies that protect the health and wellbeing of all students and staff."
The seven school boards are challenging the question of whether an executive order can supersede a decision the school board makes for their school community. The boards note that the action represents over 350,000 students across the state.
The boards also want to raise the issue that Youngkin overstepped a lawfully adopted statute with his recent executive order to make masks optional in schools.
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 student masking by anyone 2 and older, regardless of vaccination status.
"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 schools said in a news release. "Today’s action is not politically motivated. These seven school divisions would welcome the opportunity to collaborate with the governor to ensure the safety and welfare of all students."
The news release added, "This lawsuit is not brought out of choice, but out of necessity."
Macaulay Porter, a spokesperson for Youngkin, said the governor was disappointed by the school lawsuit, saying the "school boards are ignoring parent's rights."
Porter went on to say, "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."
A statement from Attorney General Jason Miyares' office also stood by the governor's executive order:
"The General Assembly has given him the power to take appropriate steps to confront this emergency and his determination that parents should make decisions regarding the health, wellbeing and safety of their children was an appropriate use of that power. As we wait for the Supreme Court’s guidance, the Attorney General’s office urges parents to listen to their principals. We have faith in legal process and will not be commenting further on the pending litigation at this time."
In a statement to 13News Now, Hampton School Board Chair Dr. Richard Mason said the following:
"Our Hampton School Board is committed to providing all of our students a safe, in-person learning environment and as such, upheld the Board's support of the HCS 2021-2022 Instruction and Health Mitigation Plan at its January 19, 2022, School Board meeting. When the governor issued Executive Order 2 on January 15, 2022, our Board had concerns as to local control and who has the authority to make policy and decisions for local school divisions. Due to this, and the importance of creating and maintaining healthy learning environments, our Board has joined six other school divisions to file a Complaint for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief. This legal action will determine whether locally-elected school boards will maintain the authority and responsibility conferred upon them by the Constitution of Virginia over supervision of the public schools in their respective communities."
Monday's lawsuit was filed in the Circuit Court for Arlington. It is separate from another lawsuit filed to the Supreme Court of Virginia last week by a group of Chesapeake parents, who are also against the Republican governor's executive order.
Youngkin, meanwhile, on Friday said he's confident his administration will win a court battle over his executive order allowing parents to opt-out of school mask mandates for their children, but he advised parents to "listen to their principal" until the Supreme Court of Virginia issues its ruling.
WUSA9 contributed to this report.