School boards in seven of Virginia's liberal enclaves on Monday filed suit against Gov. Glenn Youngkin's (R.) executive order that allows parents to choose whether their children wear masks in school.
Officials from Arlington County and Fairfax County joined five other districts in challenging Youngkin's order. The districts claim the order, which took effect on Monday, "is in conflict with the Constitution and state law."
Youngkin campaigned on education issues including giving parents the authority to mask or not mask their children in the classroom. Immediately following his Jan. 15 inauguration, the governor signed a series of executive orders to fulfill major campaign promises. In addition to overturning mask mandates, Youngkin signed an executive order banning left-wing race and gender ideology from the classroom.
The suit claims that Youngkin's executive order puts school boards "in a legally untenable position." School boards in the cities of Alexandria, Richmond, Hampton, and Falls Church, as well as Fairfax and Prince William counties, joined the suit. In separate statements announcing plans to buck Youngkin's executive order, districts pointed to a Virginia law that directs schools to follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance on coronavirus mitigation.
"School divisions need to continue to preserve their authority to protect and serve all our students, including our most vulnerable, who need these mitigation measures perhaps more than anyone to be able to continue to access in-person instruction," the school boards said in a news release announcing the suit.
On Friday, Youngkin released updated COVID mitigation strategies for parents and schools. The guidance encouraged vaccinations and social distancing but reaffirmed parents' right to make health decisions for their children.
"I have said all along that we are going to stand up for parents," Youngkin said in a statement. "Executive Order 2 is not about pro-masks versus anti-mask, it's about empowering parents."
Youngkin said in a tweet on Saturday his office is still working through the "legal process" of squaring the executive order with state law.
A handful of Virginia teachers threatened to resist the executive order in a series of social media posts, the Washington Free Beacon reported on Wednesday. Teachers said they would not allow unmasked kids into the classroom or would separate unmasked kids from the rest of the class. One teacher joked she would get a "cattle prod" to fend off maskless students.
School boards and teachers' unions opposed reopening schools throughout the pandemic, even as evidence showed low rates of viral transmission in classrooms. Fairfax teachers pushed for online learning until the fall 2021 semester and, at one point, demanded children get vaccinated before returning to school, even though the FDA had yet to approve the vaccine for children.