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Parents Sue Virginia Governor Over Executive Order Banning Local Mask Mandates

The lawsuit purports that Youngkin “lacks the authority” to issue such an order under the state constitution.

Students prepare to enter the building of Stratford Landing Elementary School in Alexandria, Virginia, on August 23, 2021.

A group of parents in Virginia is suing Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) over an executive order that effectively ends masking rules that some school districts had in place to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

Thirteen parents in the Chesapeake Public School District filed a lawsuit this week, alleging that Youngkin’s order — referred to as Executive Order Number Two — is unlawful, and infringes upon the district’s right to protect children and their families.

Youngkin signed the executive order on his first day in office earlier this month. Within the order, Youngkin says that mask mandates are “ineffective and impractical” — a claim that has been debunked by several studies demonstrating the effectiveness of masks in reducing the spread of the virus. The order states that any masking mandate issued by a K-12 school district in Virginia must be optional for students and teachers.

The parents’ lawsuit states that Youngkin “lacks the authority” to issue an executive order forbidding local school districts from implementing masking rules, noting that, under state law, governors cannot undo previous laws through executive order alone.

A previous state law, which passed under Youngkin’s predecessor, mandated that schools stay open five days per week, and added that schools have a responsibility to adhere to guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as much as possible. The CDC currently says that students and staff should wear masks while inside buildings.

The lawsuit alleges that Youngkin cannot unilaterally undo that law through executive order, citing Article I Section 7 of the Constitution of Virginia, which states that the “power of suspending laws, or the execution of laws, by any authority, without consent of the representatives of the people, is injurious to their rights, and ought not to be exercised.”

The lawsuit also notes that, in matters relating to education, the governor does not have the authority to make such decisions on his own.

Nowhere in the state constitution “is the Governor of Virginia vested with the type of authority that would be required to lawfully enact Executive Order Number Two and impose the requirements stated therein,” the lawsuit says.

Youngkin’s order is set to take effect on Monday, but parents are asking the court to take immediate action and to suspend the executive order until the matter is resolved.

Youngkin’s action subverts the will of a majority of state residents. According to a Washington Post/Schar School poll from September, 69 percent of Virginia residents support mask mandates in schools for students, teachers and staff. Only 28 percent said they were opposed to the idea.

Support for mask mandates to mitigate the spread of coronavirus remains high nationwide; in a recent Economist/YouGov poll, 57 percent of respondents said they still believed school districts “should be allowed to mandate masks for their students.”

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