Judge halts Youngkin order ending school mask mandates
A Virginia judge on Friday afternoon granted a temporary injunction to seven school districts in Virginia to allow school boards to continue to mandate mask-wearing for students.
One of Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s first executive orders sought to give parents flexibility in whether to allow mask-wearing for their children in education settings. Several school boards, in response, filed a lawsuit in the Arlington Circuit Court on Jan. 24.
Arlington Circuit Court Judge Louise DiMatteo ruled in favor (pdf) of seven school boards involved in the lawsuit, stating that Youngkin cannot override the decision of local school boards on mask mandates under a 2021 state law.
DiMatteo also ruled that she believes the current policies of universal masking are beneficial.
“Keeping rules in place that have been established over the school year helps children, families, and staff understand how they may be impacted during the pandemic. Without a restraining order, children and staff would have to reassess certain health conditions they believe are impacted by a mask policy,” she wrote.
A spokeswoman for Attorney General Jason Miyares told local media that his office will appeal the ruling.
“The governor will never stop fighting for parents’ ability to choose what is best for their children,” Youngkin spokeswoman Macaulay Porter said in a statement Friday. “The governor often said that this is not a pro-mask or anti-mask debate. It’s about parents knowing what’s best for their child’s health, and opting-out should there be a mask mandate.”
During a Wednesday hearing, Deputy Attorney General Steven Popps argued that Youngkin is entitled to issue executive orders responding to the coronavirus pandemic just as his predecessor, Democrat Ralph Northam, did when he imposed a statewide school mask mandate.
“It should not matter whose name is on the executive order,” Popps said at the time.
But John Cafferky, a lawyer for Alexandria Public Schools—one of the seven school boards that jointly filed the lawsuit opposing Youngkin’s order—said Northam’s actions were justified because he was acting to preserve public health.
The ruling comes as more and more experts and public health officials have suggested an end to school mask mandates. An infectious disease expert who works for the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases headed by Dr. Anthony Fauci, and other researchers recently wrote that several studies cited by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for mask mandates in schools are flawed.