Seven Virginia school districts have filed suit against Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s executive order leaving masking decisions to parents.
The school boards of Alexandria, Arlington County, the City of Richmond, Fairfax County, Falls Church, Hampton and Prince William County filed the suit on Monday.
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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.
And in a released statement, the Falls Church board said the suit “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.”
The lawsuit states: “At issue is whether locally-elected school boards will maintain the exclusive authority and responsibility conferred upon them by Article VIII, Section 7 of the Constitution of Virginia to supervise the public schools in their respective school divisions or whether the Governor can unilaterally infringe upon that authority through an executive order.”
In a statement, Prince William County School Board Chairman Babur Lateef said it was the system’s “highest priority to have students learning in-person” as well as protecting students and staff amid the ongoing COVID pandemic.
“It is also important that school boards retain their local decisional authority to take actions deemed necessary for the safety of their school community,” Lateef said.
“With this legal filing, we do not seek to make a political statement. We simply seek clarification on the conflict between the Governor’s recent Executive Order and existing state and federal law. Due to the confusion this has caused our families and our schools, we are seeking answers from the court as rapidly as possible. As Gov. Youngkin also stated, we ask our community to please support our principals until the courts have resolved the question. We all want to move beyond COVID-19, including masking requirements, and we will do so when possible, in a thoughtful and safe manner for all.”
In response to the suit, Youngkin said, “We will continue to protect parents’ fundamental right to make decisions with regard to their child’s upbringing, education and care.”
Youngkin spokesperson Macaulay Porter said the administration was disappointed.
“The governor and attorney general are in coordination and are committed to aggressively defending parents’ fundamental right to make decisions with regard to their child’s upbringing, education and care, as the legal process plays out,” she said in a statement.
Multiple systems said last week they’ll ignore Youngkin’s order.
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.
Monday’s lawsuit comes after a group of parents in Chesapeake field a petition last week at the Virginia Supreme Court challenging the executive order.
The Supreme Court justices took no action on the lawsuit last week and it was not immediately clear if they would do so Monday.
Democrats commended the school boards who challenged Youngkin on Monday and accused him of using children as political pawns.
“Youngkin is quickly on his way to becoming the most divisive and authoritarian governor in our commonwealth’s long history,” state Sen. Mamie Locke said at a news conference.
You can read the full text of the lawsuit here.
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The Associated Press contributed to this report.