Amid Legal Doubt over Youngkin Mask Opt-Out Order, Virginia Departments of Health and Education Emphasize Parents, Officials Share Responsibility for COVID-19 Mitigation


The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) and Department of Education (VDOE) updated their guidelines to reflect Governor Glenn Youngkin’s mask-mandate opt-out order. The new guidance downplays masks and says COVID-19 risk reduction is a shared responsibility between parents and officials.

These three core principles found in Executive Order 2 reaffirm: 1. Parents are in charge of their children’s health, wellbeing and education, 2. Schools must be open five days a week for inperson learning, and 3. The Commonwealth and school divisions must provide a safe and healthy school environment,” the new guidance states.

Youngkin’s order requires school districts to allow parents to opt their children out of mask mandates. The new guidance provides mitigation strategies for parents, including keeping sick children home, testing, COVID-19 vaccines, and masks. It includes guidance for officials including ventilation, physical distancing, encouraging sick people to stay home, educating staff about mask choices, COVID-19 testing, handwashing etiquette, clean facilities, and notifying students and staff of cases and exposure.

Although the document lists masks as prevention, it warns that some masks may not be effective, or may impact children’s emotional state.

“There is presently a lack of consensus among health experts regarding the costs and benefits of mask-wearing for children in school,” the guidance states, but adds, “In situations where a child is returning from isolation due to COVID, or was subject to a close contact exposure, the benefit of temporary masking is likely to outweigh the risks.”

After Youngkin issued EO Two, the Virginia Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics reiterated the importance of masks for school children.

“Any successful comprehensive plan to protect children against the Omicron variant and other future variants of COVID-19 includes being up to date on COVID-19 vaccination and consistent wearing of face masks during times of infection surge,” the VA-AAP said in a press release. “Face masks remain safe and reliable, and children have demonstrated their ability to wear them effectively. In addition to protecting a child, face mask use significantly reduces the spread of SARS-CoV-2 and other respiratory infections, thus keeping schools operational and ensuring children do not miss in-person school.”

SB 1303 vs. EO Two

The administration, lawmakers, and school officials are still debating over the meaning of SB 1303.

That bill, now law, was a bipartisan effort to require full-time in-person learning — but also includes a clause that orders school districts to adhere “to the maximum extent practicable, to any currently applicable mitigation strategies for early childhood care and education programs and elementary and secondary schools to reduce the transmission of COVID-19 that have been provided by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”

A CDC K-12 COVID-19 prevention guidance document recommends masking, with exceptions for people with disabilities or for whom the mask would create a workplace safety risk.

“CDC recommends universal indoor masking by all students (ages two years and older), staff, teachers, and visitors to K-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status,” the document states.

That’s complicating school officials’ policy-making decisions. Some school districts have gained attention for their resistance to Youngkin’s mask opt-out order, but other districts have updated their guidance to comply with the order.

Other districts are saying mask requirements remain in place for now, despite Youngkin’s EO Two taking effect on January 24. On Friday, the Roanoke City Public School district said that it is reviewing the updated VDH/VDOE guidance.

“The Supreme Court of Virginia has not yet ruled on whether Governor Youngkin’s Executive Order No. 2 can overturn state law (SB 1303), and other federal guidance, including that from the CDC. Therefore, we will not deviate from our protocols and will continue to require face coverings in schools,” a district Facebook post states.

Some Chesapeake parents filed a lawsuit to have the Virginia Supreme Court block EO Two. On Thursday, Attorney General Jason Miyares announced that he filed to have the lawsuit dismissed.

Youngkin Tells Parents to Listen to Local School Officials as Legal Process Plays Out

At a Thursday Page County School District meeting, parent Amelia King protested told officials her children would not wear a mask on Monday and threatened to bring loaded guns.

“No mask mandates. My children will not come to school on Monday with a mask on, alright. That’s not happening. And I will bring every single gun loaded and ready,” King said, according to The Page Valley News. “I’ll see ya’ll on Monday.”

The Luray Police Department charged her with oral threat while on school property.

On Friday, Youngkin said in a press release, “I am confident that the Virginia Supreme Court will rule in the favor of parents, reaffirming the parental rights clearly laid out in the Virginia code § 1-240.1. In the meantime, I urge all parents to listen to their principal, and trust the legal process. If you have any questions or concerns please contact us at [email protected].”

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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 Students” by Loudoun County Schools.




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