Five Northern Virginia school boards, along with their counterparts in the cities of Richmond and Hampton, have joined a lawsuit that challenges new Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin’s order that rescinds the state’s mask mandate in public schools. Fairfax, Arlington, Alexandria, Falls Church, and Prince William County are parties to the suit, which was filed in Arlington Circuit Court on Monday—the day Youngkin’s new rule takes effect.
The court action, the school authorities say in a joint press release, “defends the right of school boards to enact policy at the local level, including policies that protect the health and well-being of all students and staff.” Youngkin, whose narrow victory last fall was fueled in part by the contention that parents should have more control over school policies that affect their children, has taken an expansive vision of state power since his inauguration. His lieutenant governor, Winsome Earle-Sears, has suggested the commonwealth could withhold funds from districts that disobey.
Parents in Chesapeake have also sued Youngkin over his order. Their case, like the school boards’ turns on two questions: 1) whether school boards, which are elected locally, have constitutional authority to supervise their schools; and 2) whether Youngkin holds the authority to overturn a state law by executive order. They contend that a law passed last year that directs schools to adhere to Covid mitigation strategies from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which currently recommends masks in schools, supercedes his order.
Youngkin posted a tweet over the weekend that counseled Virginians “to love your neighbor, to listen to school principals, and to trust the legal process.” Several school principals in these Northern Virginia districts have posted messages of support for local control and their district’s existing Covid policies since Youngkin signed his order. It’s not clear whether they’re among the group Youngkin expects Virginians to listen to. A Youngkin spokesperson told the Washington Post that “we will continue to protect parents’ fundamental right to make decisions with regard to their child’s upbringing, education and care.”
Youngkin’s son Thomas attends the private Georgetown Prep school in Maryland, where the sticker price for day-student tuition is $39,385 per year and which requires masks.