ACPS defies new governor’s removal of mask mandate

ACPS defies new governor’s removal of mask mandate
ACPS Superintendent Dr. Gregory Hutchings Ed.D. receives the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. (Photo/ACPS)

By Cody Mello-Klein |

Following a day one executive order on Saturday from Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) that removed state mask mandates for Virginia public schools, Alexandria City Public Schools announced on Sunday that it would be keeping its mask requirement for students and staff in place.

“Masks, combined with multiple other ACPS mitigation measures, have been effective in helping to protect the collective health and safety of our students and staff and keep our schools open for in-person learning. This continues to be our commitment as we grapple with the challenges that this pandemic has posed for our schools,” ACPS announced in a news release.

Youngkin’s executive order allows for parents of any public elementary or secondary school children to “elect for their children not to be subject to any mask mandate.”

Alexandria was not alone in its opposition to the order. Arlington Public Schools and Fairfax County Public Schools also announced decisions to keep mask policies in place. As of Tuesday, seven school districts have stated they plan to continue requiring mask wearing in schools.

The executive order, which is set to take effect on Monday, has already created widespread confusion concerning Youngkin’s legal authority to remove the state’s mask mandate. Some have cited Virginia state code which states that public school districts must adhere to recommendations from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention. Several school districts have cited the Virginia Senate’s bipartisan Bill 1303, which requires public schools to maintain in-person learning by using, “to the maximum extent practicable,” CDC mitigation strategies, including mask wearing for those ages 2 and up.

Youngkin has publicly stated his intent to use state resources to force compliance of his executive order, although he has not yet specified how he would do so.

“We wrote the order specifically to give all the school systems, basically, eight days to get ready — to listen to parents,” Youngkin said. “Over the course of this week, I hope they will listen to parents because we will use every resource within the governor’s authority to explore what we can and will do to ensure parents’ rights are protected.”

On Tuesday, a group of Chesapeake Public Schools parents in Chesapeake, Virginia sued Youngkin and several members of his administration in the Virginia supreme court. They claim that Youngkin’s executive order violates state law.

“Petitioners have no adequate remedy at law and no time to spare. They and their children are likely to suffer irreparable harm and damage if this Court declines to grant immediate relief,” the parents wrote in their suit.