Then-Virginia Republican gubernatorial nominee Glenn Youngkin speaks during his election night party at a hotel in Chantilly, Va., November 3, 2021. (Elizabeth Frantz

As one of his first orders of business upon assuming office Monday, Virginia governor Glenn Youngkin enacted a mask-mandate ban for public schools in the state. Seven school districts have announced that they will defy the order and maintain mask requirements in buildings and on school buses.

Prince Williams, Richmond, Arlington, Henrico, Alexandria, Fredericksburg, and Manassas Public Schools all plan to continue enforcing mask-wearing on their premises for students, staff, and faculty regardless of vaccination status despite Youngkin’s directive.

In keeping with his campaign promise to empower parents as key players in the Virginia public education system, Youngkin’s executive order was titled “Reaffirming the Rights of Parents in the Upbringing, Education, and Care of their Children.” In similar fashion to Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’s mask-mandate ban, Youngkin’s does not prohibit masks in schools but rather gives parents the option to choose whether their child will wear one, given that some increasingly see it as an impediment to learning and academic development.

Most of the seven noncompliant districts cited existing state law SB1303 as authorization to keep their masking policies in schools. The relevant provision reads that schools must “provide such in-person instruction in a manner in which it adheres, to the maximum extent practicable, to any currently applicable mitigation strategies for early childhood care and education programs and elementary and secondary schools to reduce the transmission of COVID-19 that have been provided by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”

Though school districts may invoke SB1303 as justification, the legislation doesn’t explicitly mention masks. Youngkin has not said whether he plans to go through the legislative process, given a GOP-dominated state house and narrowly Democratic-dominated state senate, to outlaw mask mandates.

“The HCPS school board and administration respect that parents make decisions for their families; however, division leaders must make decisions for the collective safety of nearly 49,000 students and 10,000 employees and fulfill our responsibility to provide in-person instruction,” Henrico County Public Schools said in a statement. HCPS noted that its school board unanimously approved mask requirements even before former Democratic Governor Ralph Northam imposed the statewide emergency health order.

“Universal mask use has been proven effective in keeping COVID-19 transmission rates low in our schools and ensuring schools remain safe and open,” Fredericksburg City Public Schools claimed. Mounting evidence, including a comprehensive study done in the U.K., suggests that mask mandates have no statistically significant impact on Covid transmission.

Asked for evidence to support their contention that mask mandates are effective in reducing the spread of Covid, a spokesman for the Arlington Public School District inadvertently emailed a Daily Caller reporter a response that was meant for a fellow school official.

“FYI I recommend not responding to the Daily Caller. It won’t get us anywhere,” the spokesman wrote. A subsequent email fell back on CDC guidance.

Some counties, such as Prince William, suggested they might adopt Youngkin’s order pending its review of both it and anticipated revised guidance from the Virginia Department of Education.

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