Va. Supreme Court dismisses Chesapeake parents’ lawsuit over Youngkin mask mandate ban

The Virginia Supreme Court on Monday ruled against a group of Chesapeake parents fighting Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s ban on mask mandates in schools.

The court ruled that the parents group had no grounds for its suit, because it challenged Youngkin’s executive order, issued on his first day in office, seeking a writ of mandamus (forcing an official to fulfill their official duties or correct an abuse of discretion) and a writ of prohibition (stopping a body from exercising power it does not have).

The court said a writ of prohibition didn’t apply because that generally applies to courts, and that a writ of mandamus didn’t apply, because the parents hadn’t shown “a clear and unequivocal duty” that Youngkin hadn’t fulfilled.

“It’s extremely technical,” said Carl Tobias, a professor of law at the University of Richmond. “And it isn’t really a ruling on the merits, but highly technical in terms of the relief that the petitioners sought.”

Youngkin and Republican Attorney General Jason Miyares are battling in court on multiple fronts to defend the executive order. But the ruling is far from definitive. The Supreme Court said in its order, “By this dismissal, we offer no opinion on the legality of [the executive order] or any other issue pertaining to petitioners’ claims.”

Kevin Martingayle, a lawyer who filed the petition on behalf of the Chesapeake parents, said the ruling is only a procedural defeat, and noted language in the court’s opinion suggesting that local school boards have “a degree of discretion” under state law on whether to impose mandates.

“This is far from over,” Martingayle said in a statement.

Several lawsuits still apply against Youngkin’s ban, including one by seven school districts — Alexandria, Arlington County, Richmond, Fairfax County, Falls Church, Hampton and Prince William County — which was upheld by a Circuit Court judge last week, putting a temporary halt on Youngkin’s order.

Youngkin and Miyares have said they’ll appeal that decision, and Tobias cautioned against using Monday’s ruling as a sign either way. “I don’t think you can tell” how the Supreme Court will rule in the appeals of the Arlington Circuit Court ruling, Tobias said. “And so we’ll have to see what happens.”

Still, Miyares said in a statement that he and Youngkin were “pleased with today’s ruling,” calling the dismissal of the parents’ lawsuit “a victory for Virginia families.”

Tobias’ advice to parents confused by the legal back-and-forth? “See what your local school board is doing, and then try to persuade them otherwise, if you are not happy with what the school board is doing.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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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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