Judge rules for 7 Va. school boards, temporarily halts Youngkin mask mandate ban

A judge has granted seven Virginia school districts restraining orders against Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s ban on mask mandates.

A judge has granted seven Virginia school districts restraining orders against Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s ban on mask mandates.

Arlington County Circuit Court Judge Louise DiMatteo issued a temporary restraining order against Youngkin’s ban, which went into effect Jan. 24 and has since been the subject of lawsuits by school systems and parent groups.

In his 10-page decision, DiMatteo agreed with school boards in Alexandria, Arlington County, Fairfax County, Falls Church City, Hampton Roads, Prince William County and the City of Richmond that the mask mandates are expected to remain in place as the case continues to be resolved. in class.

The decision, which allows mask mandates implemented by school boards to remain in place, was based on several factors.

The judge said the school boards will “likely succeed” in their assertion that Youngkin’s executive order conflicts with Virginia law and cannot replace it.

The law states that school boards must “provide such in-person instruction in a manner that respects, to the greatest extent possible, all mitigation strategies currently applicable to early childhood care and education programs and elementary and secondary schools to reduce the transmission of COVID-19 that were provided by the Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC recommends “universal indoor masking” in K-12 schools.

The judge also said schools would suffer irreparable harm if the order went into effect before it could be crafted by a court, and that the “balance of fairness” favored school systems maintaining the rules that have been in effect all year.

“Keeping in place the rules that have been established during the school year helps children, families and staff understand how they may be affected during the pandemic. Without a restraining order, children and staff should reassess certain health conditions that they believe are affected by a mask policy (any mask policy), after relying on an implemented universal mask mandate by school boards,” DiMatteo wrote in his ruling.

In a joint statement, the seven school districts noted they educate a total of 350,000 children and said the order “enables schools to continue to protect the health and well-being of all students and staff.” “while the legal proceedings continue.

Systems said Youngkin’s order puts student health at risk, overrides the authority granted to school boards in the Virginia constitution, and attempts to “overturn a lawfully passed law.”

Stephen Farnsworth, a professor of political science and international affairs at the University of Mary Washington, said executive orders don’t trump state law, and “that’s why this case was not going to go never have a happy ending for the governor”.

“You still have a lot of differences in how different school districts are going to handle things,” Farnsworth said. “But for most school districts in Northern Virginia, many of whom were part of this lawsuit, this will allow the school district to do what it wanted to do all along, which is to keep the mask mandate. .”

Writing about his move last month in The Washington Post, Youngkin attempted to redefine the word “warrant,” saying he did not ban warrants, but rather ordered that parents do not have to follow them s they didn’t want it.

Youngkin’s spokeswoman Macaulay Porter said in a statement Friday, “The governor will never stop fighting for the ability of parents to choose what is best for their children.” The governor has often said this is not a pro-mask or anti-mask debate. It is for parents to know what is best for the health of their child and to withdraw in the event of an obligation to wear a mask.

A growing number of voices, including from the scientific and medical community, are questioning the effectiveness of a universal mask mandate for children. It’s about knowing what’s best for their children’s health and who can best make that decision. We will appeal; it is only the first step in the legal process.

A spokeswoman for Attorney General Jason Miyares said: “We are disappointed that the trial court did not fully agree with our interpretation of the law and we are preparing to appeal today’s decision.

‘Cautious optimism’

Stella Pekarsky, chair of the Fairfax County School Board, said she was “certainly thrilled and cautiously optimistic that this temporary restraining order will become permanent.”

Pekarsky said “the vast majority of people I’ve spoken to” support universal masking. “There are parents who are really exhausted and they want things back to normal, which I understand – I have five children of my own.”

She said the day will come when “we can all get rid of masks. But we must do so in agreement and in partnership with our health experts. »

She added that the governor’s conflict with the locally elected school board was significant. “We are locally elected decision makers. And we are held accountable to our constituents. … The separation of powers, the constitutional authority given to us as local elected officials – this really goes to the heart of our democracy.

Pekarsky said his message to parents who wanted warrants gone would be “I understand there is a difference of opinion. And I respect that. But at the end of the day, you know, we have to respect the rule of law. And I think today’s decision is what we need to do. It is extremely important that we model this for our students.

Scott Gelman of WTOP and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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