by Jack Miller
Governor Glenn Youngkin, after being sworn into office as the Governor of Virginia last month, wasted no time before setting down various executive orders. These executive orders affect mask-wearing for public school children, among other initiatives that were prominent during his campaign. According to Executive Order-2, second only to the executive order concerning providing a “non-controversial public education”, parents are now allowed to opt-out of school’s masking mandates. This executive order went into effect late in January and is one of many aimed, as Youngkin says, to reform education in Virginia.
At face value, EO-2 terminates Virginia public schools from being able to enforce mask mandates on their students. Governor Youngkin aims to return parents’ opinions to the educational forum, allowing them to have a say in their children’s school experiences. EO-2 also contains five other additional orders, including one specifically requesting that the State Health Commissioner must terminate the ongoing Public Health Emergency Order Ten. This order has been in effect since former governor Ralph Northam declared the coronavirus a public health threat in 2020. Terminating this order under EO-2 has ended all previous COVID-19 regulations and restrictions.
Following the application of Governor Youngkin’s executive order, Judge Louise DiMatteo from the Arlington Circuit Court sided with counties who have sued to prevent the enforcement of EO-2. DiMatteo’s court ruled that Youngkin’s emergency powers could not override local school boards’ decisions. The order has been blocked for the time being, but Youngkin has pledged to continue fighting for parental involvement in education and schooling, according to a recent statement from his office. As of now, EO-2 is still in affect in all Virginia schools outside of the seven districts (Arlington, Alexandria City, Hampton City, Richmond City, Prince William County, Falls Church City, and Fairfax) which sued against Youngkin’s executive order.
While Governor Youngkin’s EO-2 has terminated mandatory mask use among public school children grades K-12, private businesses and private schools throughout the commonwealth are still subject to their own internal decisions surrounding masking and prevention of the spread of COVID-19. We have yet to see the full effects of this executive order oh children’s quality of life and disease prevention throughout the state. Roanoke College continues to be enforcing mask policy indoors and during in-person classes at this time and is not subject to EO-2.