Thirteen parents from the Chesapeake school district are suing Governor Glenn Youngkin over his Executive Order Two which requires districts to allow parents to opt their children out of school mask mandates, no reason required. The lawsuit, filed Tuesday, says Youngkin’s order violates of separation of powers, since it violates SB 1303, which requires schools to comply with CDC mitigation strategies.
“Executive Order Number Two purports to sweep aside masking mandates and other protections with little or no consideration of or respect for CDC guidance, actions taken by the Virginia General Assembly, or the powers vested in school boards,” the lawsuit states, according to a copy obtained by ABC7.
EO Two is set to take effect on January 24. The plaintiffs want the Virginia Supreme Court to say the order is void and unenforceable, blocking Youngkin from taking action related to the order while the case proceeds.
In 2021, Senator Siobhan Dunnavant (R-Henrico) introduced SB 1303 to require schools to remain open full-time. The language about mitigation strategies was added in during bipartisan negotiations to get the bill through the General Assembly. Dunnavant has criticized former Governor Ralph Northam’s interpretation of the bill as requiring mask mandates.
“SB 1303 has been used against our children and against its intent this school year to advance an agenda. SB 1303 does not mandate the use of masks in school because the CDC does not mandate masks,” Dunnavant said in a Monday evening press release. “Governor Glenn Youngkin’s executive order does not ban masks; it gives parents options. Just like SB 1303 does not mandate masks; it gives school boards a roadmap to keep schools open.”
Since Youngkin first announced the order, 16 school districts across Virginia have said they will not comply with EO Two, according to a Monday press release from the Democratic Party of Virginia.
Fox News reported that Youngkin is willing to fight back: “We will use every resource within the governor’s authority to explore what we can do and what we will do in order to make sure parents’ rights are protected.”
Lieutenant Governor Winsome Earle-Sears told Fox News on Monday, “There are certain combinations of monies that we send to the state, to the local school boards and he could withhold some of that and he could possibly, if the law allows, even give the parents the ability to decide what schools the children should attend.”
Democrats control the Senate and would have to approve any decision to cut school funds. On Tuesday, the House and Senate Democratic Caucuses held a press conference about Youngkin’s EO Two.
“The Constitution makes clear that overall education policy is made by the Board of Education and the authority given by the General Assembly. The day-to day supervision of schools is made by the local school board. The General Assembly appropriates funds, not the governor. It is the General Assembly that decides what is appropriated, and unless we give the governor the authority to withhold funding, he can’t do it,” Senator Jennifer McClellan (D-Richmond) said.
“We applaud Virginia’s parents for standing up to Gov. Youngkin’s illegal executive order that puts our children’s health and safety at risk as COVID-19 surges, and threatens in-person learning across the Commonwealth,” Democratic Party of Virginia Chair Susan Swecker said in a Tuesday Facebook statement.
On Monday, Youngkin Press Secretary Macaulay Porter criticized Democrat claims that the administration would defund schools.
“Democrats willfully mischaracterized the Lieutenant Governor’s comments to the press and played politics in an effort to delegitimize the rights of parents,” Porter said, according to ABC8.
When asked Tuesday about the lawsuit and what tools Youngkin would use to protect parents’ decision-making over their children’s masks, Porter told The Virginia Star, “We will continue to protect parents’ fundamental right to make decisions with regard to their child’s upbringing, education and care.”
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Eric Burk is a reporter at The Virginia Star and The Star News Network. Email tips to [email protected].
Photo “Masked in Class” by Walton County School District.