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Youngkin doubles down on school masking, setting up legal showdown

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Gov. Glenn Youngkin is launching a game of chicken with school boards across the state, including fire-engine red Augusta County, over his executive order creating a parental opt-out from school mask mandates.

“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,” Youngkin said Friday, as his office announced updated guidelines for parents, educators and schools per his Executive Order 2, which creates a parental opt-out from mask mandates at both public and private schools in the Commonwealth.

School divisions in Augusta County, Staunton and Waynesboro have all decided to keep in place the mask mandates spelled out in a state law passed by the Virginia General Assembly last year, citing concerning numbers of COVID cases associated with the omicron variant.

The seven-day average of new COVID cases stands at 14,328, nearly three times the previous high-water mark of the nearly two-year pandemic, set back on Jan. 18, 2021, and literally the entire state officially at a “high” level of community transmission, according to the Virginia Department of Health.

Youngkin, through his office’s release, reiterated his call from Thursday to emphasize alternative mitigation measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19 including vaccination, distancing and outbreak awareness.

The uphill battle he faces there is with his own base, with the vast majority of those unvaccinated being his fellow Republicans, who have let themselves be hoodwinked by prominent voices in the conservative media into thinking that horse dewormers are safer than the vaccines taken safely by tens of millions.

In the meantime, the governor is trying to rewrite state law through executive order on the mask issue, an effort that is doomed to go down to defeat in court.

His reference to Virginia code §1-240.1, which spells out that “a parent has a fundamental right to make decisions concerning the upbringing, education, and care of the parent’s child,” comes across as a semantic attempt to apply broad language to the school setting.

Nothing about SB 1303, which passed the General Assembly with huge bipartisan majorities – 88-9 in the House of Delegates and 36-3 in the Senate – infringes on the rights of parents to make decisions about “the upbringing, education, and care” of their children; parents are free to decide for themselves that alternative schooling is an option, if they don’t want their children to have to wear masks to be able to attend school.

“I have said all along that we are going to stand up for parents. Executive Order 2 is not about pro-masks versus anti-mask, it’s about empowering parents,” Youngkin said, conflating the issue.

Because what he’s doing here is taking power away from parents who want to be able to have their children able to take advantage of in-person learning without having to worry about them contracting a highly contagious virus.

Even the school board in Augusta County sees the real issue here. Youngkin received 77.9 percent of the vote in Augusta County, and the 2021 school board elections were focused front and center on the masking issue, and even so, the school board that emerged from those elections voted 5-1 just yesterday to keep its current masking policy in place through at least Feb. 14.

What Youngkin did today was double down on an idea that not even his most ardent backers thinks has any value.

Story by Chris Graham

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augusta free press
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