Tempers flare over Fairfax Co. school masks

For the first time since Fairfax County, Virginia, joined a lawsuit against Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s order on school masks, the county’s school board held a public meeting Thursday, and the mask issue stirred up a passionate debate.

“Most of the teachers know this is lunacy and cruel to kids,” Carrie Lukas, a mother of five, told the board. “Why are you putting them in this position?”

Fairfax County is among numerous Virginia school systems that are still requiring masks for students despite Youngkin’s executive order that tells families that they can opt-out of mask mandates if they want.

“My first grader has never been inside his school without a mask and it is outrageous and ridiculous,” Lukas said.

The county’s superintendent Scott Brabrand weighed in.

“Folks do want to see those off-ramps for a time when masking can be optional, but now is not the time,” Brabrand said. “We will continue to work with our health authorities to develop those off-ramps.”

Youngkin issued the order as one of his first acts after being sworn in as governor on Jan. 15, and confusion has swirled over the implications since then.

Seven Virginia school systems, including Fairfax County, filed a lawsuit in Arlington County Circuit Court seeking to block the order.

Youngkin urged patience and asked parents to listen to their children’s school principals for the time being.

“Listen to a principal today. And I know that there are some school systems that are doing things that are inconsistent with respecting the rights of parents. … Let’s respect it right now and let this legal process play out,” he said in an interview with Richmond radio station WRVA.

In addition to Fairfax County, the state’s most populous jurisdiction, the school boards in Alexandria, Richmond, Hampton, Falls Church, Arlington County and Prince William County, joined the suit.

Collectively, the jurisdictions represent more than 350,000 students.

The lawsuit argues the state constitution gives local school boards the authority to run their districts. It also cites a state law that requires school systems to follow federal health guidelines, which include recommendations for universal masking.

Supporters of the executive order say the state law is not in conflict with Youngkin’s executive order because the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention only recommends mask-wearing and does not mandate it.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Nick Iannelli

Nick Iannelli can be heard covering developing and breaking news stories on WTOP.

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