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Virginia's new GOP governor meets resistance from some school districts planning to keep mask requirements


Newly inaugurated Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin has been in office for mere days, but the Republican is already rolling back the priorities of his Democratic predecessors and running into opposition from counties he lost months earlier, specifically on the hot-button issue of mask requirements in schools.
The tension over school mask requirements echoes the way pandemic-related measures have become political touchpoints over the past two years, with Youngkin campaigning last fall in no small part on parents’ frustrations with remote learning and seizing on what they perceived as lack of control over their kids’ schooling. But Youngkin’s executive action about mask wearing in schools, which he signed on his first day in office on Saturday, comes in the middle of the latest spike in coronavirus cases — in part due to the highly transmissible Omicron variant — and during a public health crisis where the choices of individuals impact entire communities. His order states “parents should have the ability to decide whether their child should wear masks for the duration of the school day,” thereby attempting to stop any mask mandates in public schools. Youngkin’s executive actions, which include nine orders and two directives so far, offer the clearest sign that the Republican governor will represent a dramatic departure for a state that has been blue for years, including eight years of Democrats in the governor’s mansion and two years of total Democratic control in the state. They’ve set off a firestorm of controversy and are poised to become Youngkin’s first large test since taking office. Several school districts in more blue areas of the commonwealth immediately responded to Youngkin by saying they will defy his new order on masks. Youngkin’s predecessor, former Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam, had announced in August that masks would be required in schools as part of a public health emergency order. School officials in Northern Virginia, including in Arlington County and Fairfax County (the commonwealth’s largest district), as well as Henrico County in the Richmond region, say they will continue to enforce mask requirements for kids after Youngkin’s executive order takes effect on January 24. “FCPS continues to require universal mask wearing in alignment with (US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) guidance.

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