Defiant School Boards Across Virginia Sue Over Youngkin’s Anti-Mask Order

RICHMOND, VIRGINIA - JANUARY 15: Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin gives the inaugural address after being sworn in as the 74th governor of Virginia on the steps of the State Capitol on January 15, 2022 in Richmond, V... RICHMOND, VIRGINIA - JANUARY 15: Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin gives the inaugural address after being sworn in as the 74th governor of Virginia on the steps of the State Capitol on January 15, 2022 in Richmond, Virginia. Youngkin, who once served as co-CEO of the private equity firm The Carlyle Group, is the first Republican Governor elected to govern the Virginian commonwealth since 2009. (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images) MORE LESS
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Seven Virginia school boards on Monday sued to stop a mask-optional order by Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) on the first day it was scheduled to take effect.

The order, which the school boards argue violates the state’s Constitution, was part of a string of executive orders Youngkin signed on his first day in office earlier this month. In a lawsuit filed Monday morning in Arlington Circuit Court, the school boards requested an immediate injunction that would block the enforcement of the newly-elected GOP governor’s order. The order essentially unravels former Gov. Ralph Northam’s (D) universal masking mandate for K-12 schools. The Youngkin order bars school districts from enforcing mask-related policies for students and staff under their purview, leaving the masking-decision to parents.

The pushback from school boards against Youngkin’s order isn’t a surprise. Shortly after Youngkin signed the anti-mask mandate order, some of the largest school districts in the commonwealth declared that their mask mandate for in-person learning would remain in place, despite Youngkin’s order.

According to a Washington Post tally, at least 58 of Virginia’s roughly 130 school districts have voted to keep universal masking rules in place. However, school boards in rural and conservative areas have also held votes to comply with Youngkin’s order, after some parents in those districts planned to hold protests outside schools Monday to advocate for optional masking.

Taking a cue from other GOP governors such as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), Youngkin has threatened to use state resources to force compliance, saying in a statement last weekend that he is confident that the Virginia Supreme Court will soon rule in his favor to uphold the order.

Meanwhile, a similar pro-parent approach to Republican grievance politics is playing out in Texas. Gov. Greg Abbott (R) announced his plans to amend the Texas Constitution with a Parent Bill of Rights if he wins re-election. Much like Youngkin, Abbott argues that the bill will codify parents’ rights as the prime “decision-makers” when it comes to a child’s education and health care needs.

At an event hosted by the Founders Classical Academy of Lewisville last week, Abbott said that under the proposal, the state’s constitution would be amended to “make clear that parents are the primary decision makers in all matters involving their children,” which includes the expansion of parental access to school curriculums. And it doesn’t stop there. The proposal is pretty far-reaching, suggesting that parents would be the ones to decide whether a child should repeat a course or grade level rather than leaving the decision to the school district.

Abbott’s latest plan is in line with his crusade against so-called inappropriate content in schools. Last November, Abbott directed the Texas Education Agency to produce statewide standards banning “obscene content” in public schools and to investigate criminal activity into what he deems as “pornographic” materials in public schools. Abbott threatened that any educator convicted of providing students with “obscene” content would lose their educational credentials and state licensing, forfeit their retirement benefits and would be placed on a “do not hire” list.

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