Seven Virginia school boards, representing 350,000 students, sued Gov. Glenn Youngkin over his new executive order making masks optional within school systems, which includes on school buses. It's in response to a previously issued order by the state health commissioner requiring masks at K-12 schools. It comes as the nation grapples with the latest COVID-19 case surge.
While this new order effectively bans masking from being required at schools, a federal executive order requiring masks on school buses effectively overrules Youngkin's order when it comes to pupil transportation.
Multiple news outlets reported that the school boards of Alexandria City, Arlington County, Richmond City, Fairfax County, Falls Church City, Hampton City and Prince William County filed a joint lawsuit with the Circuit Court for the County of Arlington on Monday, the day the order went into effect, challenging its constitutionality. According to the lawsuit, the Constitution of Virginia gives locally-elected school boards the right to maintain exclusive authority over the schools in their districts.
The suit alleges Gov. Youngkin's executive order infringes upon that authority. It also alleges that the order contradicts a state law which says schools must follow CDC guidelines to the "maximum extent practicable" until Aug. 1, 2022. The CDC recommends all students, staff, and school visitors wear masks indoors regardless of their vaccination status.
The lawsuit argues the harms inflicted by the order are, "direct, immediate, and irremediable."
Youngkin's order argues that the previous order requiring masks in Virginia schools lists COVID-19 data from the Delta variant surge, not the most recent Omicron variant surge.
Last week, NBC Washington reported a group of parents sued Youngkin over the order.
The order says in part, "Under Virginia law, parents, not the government, have the fundamental right to make decisions concerning the care of their children."
According to the Associated Press, Youngkin responded to the lawsuits during an interview with a local radio station saying, "I know that there are some school systems that are doing things that are inconsistent with respecting the rights of parents. ... Let’s respect it right now and let this legal process play out."