Va. Senate votes to overturn local school mask mandates

The Virginia Senate on Wednesday passed a bill allowing parents to ignore local school boards’ mandates on children wearing masks in school.

By a vote of 21-17, with several Democrats joining all Republicans, the Senate passed SB739, which lets parents “elect for [their child] to not wear a mask on school property.”

The bill goes to the House, where it’s expected to pass. If that happens, Gov. Glenn Youngkin has said he’ll sign it.

Passage of the bill would probably render moot the several court cases against Youngkin, who tried on his first day in office to overturn local school boards’ mandates with an executive order. A judge on Tuesday ruled in favor of seven school boards who argued that the order usurped their legal authority.

“Kids across the Commonwealth win with this bipartisan vote today,” Youngkin said in a statement. “I promised that as governor, Virginia would move forward with an agenda that empowers parents on the upbringing, education, and care of their own children. I am proud to continue to deliver on that promise.” He added that school boards who maintain mandates are “attacking their own students” and “stunningly detached from reality.”

“It’s time to put kids first and get back to normal,” Youngkin said.

The law cited by the Arlington County Circuit Court judge in halting Youngkin’s order “requires each school board to provide such in-person instruction in a manner in which it adheres, 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.”

The CDC recommends “universal masking” in schools.

Sen. Shannon Dunnavant, a Republican who introduced the original version of the bill that passed Wednesday, said there’s no conflict.

“That bill was always about in-person education,” Dunnavant told WTOP. “Everything else was secondary, including all mitigation, policies and procedures. … This conversation about mask mandates and 1303 was never accurate or correct.”

She added, “I’m so glad that we can turn the conversation back to the preeminent thing.”

WTOP’s Scott Gelman contributed to this report.

More Coronavirus news

Looking for more information? D.C., Maryland and Virginia are each releasing more data every day. Visit their official sites here: Virginia | Maryland | D.C.

Rick Massimo

Rick Massimo came to WTOP, and to Washington, in 2013 after having lived in Providence, R.I., since he was a child. He's the author of "A Walking Tour of the Georgetown Set" and "I Got a Song: A History of the Newport Folk Festival."

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